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For years, Anjelita Weller's favorite hobby was tending her extensive flower and vegetable garden. When she retired from a 42-year nursing career a few years ago, Anjelita was glad to devote more time to her garden. But in early in 2014, she began having pain in her left leg.
At first, the pain was manageable. She kept doing her daily activities until the pain spread to her left foot and lower back. At that point, she went to her doctor, and a series of MRI scans revealed that the disc between the L4 and L5 vertebrae in her spine had begun to compress, putting pressure on her sciatic nerve.
Anjelita's doctor suggested physical therapy and prescribed pain medicine for a few months. But even with these treatments, the pain in her back and leg was getting worse. By October of that year, Anjelita's pain was to the point where she had trouble walking, and navigating stairs was nearly impossible.
Anjelita's severe pain was interfering with her life and everything she loved to do. So, she and her husband researched options beyond therapy and medicine. They learned of a surgical procedure that could potentially help, but it required invasive surgery to her lower back, in addition to a back brace and an extensive recovery period.
Anjelita was hoping for a less invasive surgery that could help relieve her pain. She and her husband searched online for an expert in minimally invasive spine surgery. The first name that appeared was Adam Kanter, MD, director of the Minimally Invasive Spine Program and the Spine Fellowship Program at UPMC.
A resident of Hopewell, Pennsylvania, Anjelita had heard of UPMC but had no experience with the care offered by UPMC doctors. After watching a video about the procedure Dr. Kanter performs to address issues like hers, she was convinced UPMC was the right choice for treatment.
By the time Anjelita underwent surgery, it had been nearly a year since her pain began, and she had serious disc degeneration and stenosis in her spine. After determining that all non-surgical options had been exhausted, Dr. Kanter decided to perform XLIF®, or eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion, surgery. Anjelita had surgery in January 2015 to stop the compression of her disc and relieve the pressure on her nerve.
This minimally invasive technique involved a surgical incision on Anjelita's side instead of her back, allowing for a smaller incision shorter recovery time. Dr. Kanter removed the degenerated disc and replaced it with a synthetic one that will fill in over time as the bone regenerates. The procedure eliminated the need for titanium rods and screws, which have traditionally been a feature of back surgery, a fact which Anjelita was grateful for.
Anjelita said Dr. Kanter and his team were very professional and personable throughout her journey at UPMC, from her evaluation through her surgery and recovery. They answered every question she and her husband had, and clearly explained both the procedure and recovery.
"I worked in a hospital for years, and I just hope and pray I gave my patients the type of care that was given to me," Anjelita says.
Now, Anjelita is living pain-free. A few months after her surgery, her husband built three raised-bed gardens in their yard so she could more easily get back to doing what she loves.
"By springtime, I was doing more than I ever thought I could do," Anjelita says. "Now I can dig, I can shovel, I can get down on my knees to pull weeds and just enjoy it all."
Anjelita is thrilled with the results of her surgery, and she would recommend UPMC for anyone experiencing pain similar to hers. The less invasive XLIF technique, as it has a faster recovery than some other types of back surgery, allowed Anjelita to quickly return to her normal life and devote as much time as possible to her family and hobbies.
"I had never heard of this procedure before," Anjelita says. "But I have experienced nothing but the best, and I feel like I've got a new lease on life."
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive brain surgery at UPMC. Although everyone's care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Anjelita's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.