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Painful Genetic Condition is Remedied for a Second Chance at Life
If life were a series of snapshots illustrating one’s experiences, moods, and mindsets, a mosaic of Barbara Lester’s life might show a number of early shots steeped in various shades of gray, absent any vibrancy.
Barbara celebrating her twelfth birthday in a Washington, D.C., hospital room, recovering from the surgical insertion of an eleven-inch steel rod along her spine…Barbara trapped in her bedroom, bedridden by severe back pain…The eyes of strangers, drawn harshly to the young woman bent at the waist, walking with two canes.
Barbara, a resident of Southern Maryland, suffers from the genetic condition scoliosis, and the surgery was meant to limit rapid lateral (side-to-side) spinal curving. Unfortunately, a counter effect caused an inward curving of the lower spine as she continued to grow, generating pressure on her lower back muscles and joints.
According to AAMC spine surgeon Stephen Faust, M.D., the pressure of this inward curve caused premature degeneration of the lower discs in Barbara’s back. The solution was an extensive and complicated surgery to reconfigure Barbara’s spine after removing the now decade-old steel rods from a previous surgery at another hospital.
While her true body height is 6 feet, Barbara stood only 5 feet tall, hunched over at the waist, leaning on two canes grasped in both hands.
Yet, through no fault of Barbara or the surgeons, the fusion didn’t heal correctly. Stabilizing screws pulled from their bone housing, and Barbara’s body collapsed forward. For the next few years, Barbara’s collapsed spine put her in a constant forward lean. While her true body height is 6 feet, Barbara stood only 5 feet tall, hunched over at the waist, leaning on two canes grasped in both hands.
Barbara was exhausted, relying on medication to overcome intense spinal pain aggravated by working at a job she needed to help support her two sons. She spent much of her time in a darkened bedroom, praying for an end to her pain.
Relief came in 2008 when Dr. Faust, joined by neurosurgeon Thomas Ducker, M.D., revised the failed procedure, removing most of the old hardware, including one of the artificial LT cages that had been installed previously, replacing the failed cage with a structural bone graft and installing new hardware and new bone graft to correct the worst aspects of Barbara’s deformity.
Today, Barbara is rejuvenated, riding along with life, instead of watching it pass her by.
“I’m getting a second chance to do all the things I wasn’t able to do before,” said Barbara. “I cook dinner instead of going immediately to bed after work because of pain. I walk my dog, and I have a clear head, free of medication. I’m experiencing the things I lost — things that the pain took away from me.”
Best of all, said Barbara, is being able to look people in the eye. “People who know me are amazed at how straight up I’m standing,” she said. “I can tell they’re happy for me, and that just reflects how happy I am for myself. I smile all the time.”
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