For Carolyn Koll, 73, the chronic pain in her spine began in the 1980s with a herniated L5 disk that escalated over time into unrelated cervical issues. The result? Decades of discomfort that always seemed just one treatment or surgery away from total relief.
Although Carolyn had a procedure in the late 1990s to address a lumbar disk issue, she was referred to Barrow Brain and Spine Neurosurgeon Dr. Randall Porter, MD, in 2007, who performed a completely successful L5 disk fusion that provided Carolyn with 100% relief from her lower back issues.
That saga behind her, Carolyn resumed her daily life.
Fast-forward to the late 2000s, however, when Carolyn developed cervical pain that caused her to experience upper spine pain accompanied by extreme headaches. To combat the severe pain, Carolyn exhausted every pain management option available, including countless epidurals and ablation procedures – unfortunately to no avail.
Five long years passed. After experiencing increasing pain and pressure in her neck area, Carolyn once again turned to the capable care of Dr. Porter. After careful evaluation and testing, Dr. Porter recommended that Carolyn undergo major surgery in the form of an anterior cervical corpectomy with decompression, and an anterior discectomy with fusion and plating of C3-C7 – also known as a four-level cervical fusion!
This was no small procedure but Carolyn was ready. Given Dr. Porter’s years of experience treating patients with complex spine issues, Carolyn knew she was in good hands. Once again, Dr. Porter performed a successful surgery and Carolyn and Lenny were elated….for a while, that is.
Following the surgery, Carolyn began experiencing something different; headaches were originating from pain in her upper cervical spine and radiating into the occipital area. In an effort to address this new issue, she endured seemingly countless pain management epidurals and radio frequency ablations (RFAs) to the occipital area.
Yet the pain persisted and gradually worsened. Even though Carolyn was in physical therapy and taking massive doses of pain medications daily, she was experiencing only 10% relief. Her condition was becoming completely debilitating.
“Nothing was helping. I literally couldn’t walk, drive, sit or use my arms without experiencing extreme headaches. The headaches were terrible and I found myself in bed for days at a time with no relief. My life just came to a total halt. This was a low point,” says Carolyn.
“I was devastated, but I knew there just had to be a real solution out there for me. I just needed to find the right long-term surgical procedure to address the cause, not the symptoms.” At that point, she again turned to Dr. Porter for help.
Although exhaustive MRI and other tests revealed no obvious cervical spine issues, Dr. Porter was absolutely steadfast in his commitment to help Carolyn achieve her goal of becoming 100% pain free.
In May of 2016, Carolyn went in for her third surgical procedure with Dr. Porter – a bilateral C2 ganglionectomy in an attempt to remove the transmitter of the pain to the occipital area. She was confident she was in good hands after the success she had experienced with Dr. Porter in addressing prior issues and very hopeful that this would be the “magic solution” she needed to return to an active life.
During the procedure, Dr. Porter was amazed to find what had been triggering Carolyn’s persistent pain — the C2 nerve on the left side of her spine was actually smashed between the C1 and C2 vertebrae and impacted by bone spurs, causing the severe inflammation and pain. No existing tests or imaging could have detected this situation! It was only during the surgical procedure by Dr. Porter that the true root of Carolyn’s problems were finally identified.
Carolyn recalls waking up from the procedure and experiencing something amazing – a feeling of immediate pain relief! “The neck pain that I had experienced since the 90s was suddenly gone,” says Carolyn.
After a four day hospital stay, Carolyn went home and was pleasantly surprised to find that she was regaining her range of motion within just two weeks of her surgery. Most amazing of all, she felt well enough to completely stop using her pain medications since there were no pains to relieve! She was ready to truly live life again!
Reflecting on the continuing care she received from Dr. Porter and his outstanding team, Carolyn says, “He’s just an incredible surgeon and a compassionate individual whom I feel blessed to have encountered.”
She also appreciated the doctor’s open, thorough communication throughout her long journey. His practice of utilizing The Medical Memory, a video tool that records doctor-patient communication during exams, helped Carolyn and Lenny refer back to specific details of her treatment and also proved to be an effective way to share news about her treatment with concerned family and friends.
Today, Carolyn is on the full road to recovery and is thrilled to regain the lifestyle she lost decades ago. In between physical therapy sessions to return maximum motion to her neck, she is once again driving, gardening and claims she is even excited to have the ability to dust and vacuum around the house!
“It was a long journey. I can’t really explain what it’s like to get my quality of life back. It’s like waking up and being reborn into a new body. Dr. Porter saved my life not once, but three times. I can never fully express how grateful I am to Dr. Porter for giving me my life back.”
As a Barrow patient, you can feel confident we’ll exhaust every avenue to arrive at a proper diagnosis and treatment plan customized specifically for you. Request an appointment online and our Patient Navigator will guide you through the next steps.Request an Appointment