Denis Patla has been playing ice hockey for nine years. The 49-year-old South Park, Pa. native loves the game, taking it up when his son started playing. But when severe back pain began to limit his mobility, he nearly had to hang up his skates for good.
“It all started a few years ago when I would notice a terrible pain in my lower back,” says Denis. “I thought it was just from playing hockey, golf and getting older, which was something I expected.”
As the months passed, Denis’ pain only got worse. He had difficulty walking and doing simple tasks around the house.
“I could barely even walk up my own stairs,” he says. “I needed help doing things that I could do with no issues before, like tying my shoes or going out to get the mail.”
While doing rehab for a torn meniscus, his back pain increased. He began to look for pain specialists, but the results and options were limited. Then, his wife, who works for UPMC, referred him to Dr. Adam Kanter, director of the UPMC Minimally Invasive Spine Program.
During the initial consultation with Dr. Kanter, an MRI revealed that Denis was suffering from lumbar stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal, and also a herniated disc. But despite the diagnosis, Denis immediately knew that he was in the right place.
“Dr. Kanter took the time to really explain to me what was wrong with my back and how surgery could help me,” he says. “I was really looking forward to having the surgery and not having this terrible pain in my back anymore.”
To correct the damage in Denis’ lower back, Dr. Kanter utilized a minimal access lateral approach to the spine and performed a lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF). Dr. Kanter has been integral in the evolution of lateral access surgery and has developed many of the instruments he used to perform the procedure.
During the surgery, Dr. Kanter accessed Denis’ spine from the side of his body, instead of from the front or back, and replaced the damaged disc with a height-restoring cage to decompress the nerve roots. The LLIF approach causes far less damage to tissues and muscles and reduces complications associated with other surgeries that have traditionally been used to treat lumbar stenosis and herniated discs.
The day after Denis’ surgery, he was released from the hospital. A day after being home, he was back on his feet.
“Almost immediately, I noticed a huge difference,” he says. “Just walking and standing was so much better, and I didn’t feel any more pain, which was incredible.”
Denis was able to get back to working full time only a few weeks following surgery. Now, he is doing yoga to help regain his strength and he is almost ready to start scoring goals again.
“I have not laced up the skates yet, but I’m looking forward to putting all my gear back on and playing a game.”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had minimally invasive spine or 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.
Denis' treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.