Spine Surgery Saves U.S. Soldier’s Career
What does a 32-year-old United States Special Forces soldier from Burke, Virginia, do when he’s faced with a possible career-ending neck injury after a parachute jump?
He searches the Internet for the latest, most advanced treatment. And he lands, safely, in the hands of neurosurgeon Brian J. Sullivan, M.D., of Maryland Brain and Spine.
In 1997, then-Sergeant First Class Jefferey Fiorito, stationed in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, suffered what he describes as a “very bad parachute landing, injuring my neck.” After enduring more than six years of arm and neck pain, he was faced with the possibility of leaving the military on medical retirement if he had to undergo spinal fusion treatment, a procedure that can leave that section of the neck virtually immobile.
His research led him to a special Federal Drug Administration trial for a revolutionary surgical alternative to treating cervical spine disease, the closest site being Anne Arundel Medical Center, some 50 miles from Lt. Fiorito’s home. The multi-center, randomized trial—which now is closed— involved inserting a Bryan artificial cervical disc, a device about the size of a piece of Lifesaver candy, into the injured cervical disc space. “When I found out about the Bryan disc I realized that it was my only hope to correct the problem and allow me to continue to serve my country,” Lt. Fiorito said.
“The kind of injury Jeff suffered resulted in a herniated disc in C5 and C6, between the chin and the breastbone,” said Dr. Sullivan. “In a lot of cases, this kind of injury is caused by wear and tear. Spinal fusion will take away motion in the segments of the neck, which would have prevented Jeff from doing the kind of work he was assigned in the military.”
“Finding the disc surgery... and being accepted into the study by Dr. Sullivan, quite literally saved my career."
~Lt. Jeffrey Fiorito
Lt. Fiorito qualified for the trial. “I was hoping for a miracle, and I found one,” he said. He has been promoted and is scheduled to return soon to the Middle East. “Finding the disc surgery as an alternative quite literally saved my career. I was able to meet the standards for combat deployment, and that is a miracle.”
Adds Dr. Sullivan: “The beauty of using the cervical disc prosthesis is that it not only repairs the condition, but also permits the patient to move his neck freely. We’ve followed Jeff very closely for all of these years. His attitude is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. He’s grateful for the surgery because it allows him to continue to serve his country.”
The FDA has not yet rendered a decision about widespread use of the Bryan disc, named after the inventor of the prosthesis, Dr. Vincent Bryan.