Patient Story: Jon Crooker Gets Back Straightened Out


Jon with his show dogs, Benson and Donovan.

There is nothing worse than going through several spine surgeries and coming out with no pain relief. For Jon Crooker that is exactly what happened.

It all started in 2008, when he began feeling a pinch in between his shoulder blades.  As a financial underwriter for a major credit card company Crooker has spent a lot of time seated at a desk—a common scenario for many professionals today. But Crooker developed chronic pain in his spine and it became unbearable. The simplest of tasks was excruciating.

Of course this issue did not only impact his work life. As a hobby he and his wife raise and show Welsh Cardigans, which requires quite a bit of mobility. From training each dog, to feeding and cleaning kennels, Crooker’s responsibilities were becoming more difficult to perform.

“The pain was so bad it created numbness in my arm muscles and sometimes my hands,” said Crooker. “There came a point where I could be of little support to my wife and it started to drain all of the fun out of the hobby we enjoyed together.”

Seeking a solution, Crooker underwent three anterior cervical discectomies (ACDF) with fusion. ACDF is a surgery to remove a herniated or degenerative disc in the neck area of the spine. The incision is made in the front of the spine through the throat area. After the disc is removed, a bone graft is inserted to fuse together the bones above and below the disc space.

Unfortunately, these surgeries did not relieve the pain. After being told that he would need yet another fusion to relieve his pain, Crooker began looking for a new solution. “One day a co-worker mentioned that she had a spinal operation at Barrow years ago, and she was so impressed by the results and the exceptional patient care she received there.”

Crooker went online and found Barrow’s Second Opinion Program. He decided to schedule an appointment with Dr. Francisco Ponce, neurosurgeon at Barrow Brain and Spine.

“I loved the fact that through their website I was able to upload all my current information, including my X-rays and MRI scans for Dr. Ponce to review ahead of our appointment,” said Crooker. “This gave him immediate insight into my case, and expedited the process of getting closer to the results I wanted.”

During the consultation, Dr. Ponce explained to Crooker that with age, the wear and tear of the spine can create bone spurs and thickening of normal ligaments that may narrow the canals through which nerves pass. After evaluating Mr. Crooker’s MRI in the context of his symptoms, Dr. Ponce’s attention was drawn to the persistent pinching of the nerves that the levels of the prior fusions. He discussed the option of further spinal decompression of the nerve roots from a posterior approach. This is also known as a hemilaminectomy and foraminotomy.

“Given the failure of the previous surgeries to provide relief, Jon’s case was actually fairly complex, but we felt confident that this alternative approach was the right path to better, lasting results,” said Dr. Ponce. “However, it is impossible to guarantee that an operation will provide the clinical benefit the patient is hoping for, and frankly discussing the risks versus benefits is a critical step when considering surgery.”

“I was so relieved to hear Dr. Ponce’s recommended course of action,” said Crooker. “I knew that if we kept fusing discs together, I would keep getting symptoms, just at a new level. I’m so glad I sought a second opinion at Barrow.”

The whole surgery took about two hours. Within six weeks, Crooker was completely cleared to go back to work and all normal activities without rehabilitation. The most excited member of the Crooker family was undoubtedly Benson, the Welsh Cardigan, who was eager to get his best friend back.

“I was so amazed by the level of care I received at Barrow,” said Crooker. “They are always so responsive, patient, and thoughtful. Patient satisfaction is clearly a top priority for them. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Ponce and his team.”

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