Spinal Surgery Relieves Leg Pain Caused by Tumor, Averts Serious Consequences
Chandrika Patel had always been the picture of health. The only time the 56-year-old pharmacist had ever been in the hospital was for the birth of her daughter. Two years ago, however, she began experiencing sporadic pain in her left leg. She thought the pain was probably the result of standing so much while she worked at the pharmacy or from moving improperly.
“I was treating the pain with analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications,” Patel explained. “Then last December, the pain became more acute, and it was unbearable. If I moved in a particular way, I would get shocking pains. I couldn’t even lie down or move. The only time I could bear it was when I was standing.”
Mrs. Patel consulted her regular physician, Dr. Ranjana Sharma, a family medicine specialist with the Washington Township Medical Foundation. Dr. Sharma ordered an MRI and referred Mrs. Patel to Dr. Eldan Eichbaum, a neurosurgeon and member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital’s Minimally Invasive Spine Program.
“The MRI showed a large mass in the lower back – the lumbar section of the spine,” recounted Dr. Eichbaum. “The mass was a part solid, part liquid cystic lesion, and it appeared to be consistent with a non-malignant tumor. The tumor was causing severe nerve compression that produced her leg pain. In Mrs. Patel’s case, the tumor was a nerve sheath tumor – called a schwannoma – inside the spinal canal. It was already quite large – over 15 millimeters in diameter- and filled the entire spinal canal when she came to see us. If the tumor continued to grow, it could have resulted in even more serious problems, such as incontinence, weakness in the leg or perhaps even paralysis.”
At her first appointment on January 3, Dr. Eichbaum explained the possible consequences of not removing the tumor to Mrs. Patel.
“He also explained the possible adverse consequences of surgery,” she noted. “But the risks associated with not having surgery were greater than the surgical risks, and Dr. Eichbaum said it would be better to do the surgery before the tumor grew even larger. He also assured me that Washington Hospital was a really good facility for performing the surgery, and since I live in Union City, I was glad I could have the surgery close to home.”
Before performing surgery, Dr. Eichbaum ordered a brain and spine MRI to rule out other possible tumor sites. Then, during the surgery on January 17, he removed the tumor and sent it for a pathology assessment to determine whether or not it was cancerous. He also performed spinal fusion of her vertebrae from L-3 to L-5 to stabilize her spine. (The lumbar region of the back contains five vertebrae, from L-1 to L-5.) Finally, two titanium rods and fives screws were inserted into Mrs. Patel’s back, using very narrow diameter screws because of her small body size and narrow bones.
“In this type of case, we needed to get the tumor out, regardless of whether it was cancerous or benign,” Dr. Eichbaum said. “Fortunately, the tumor was successfully removed, and it was not malignant.”
Despite the lengthy and complicated surgery, recovery was quick, with only a couple of days spent confined to bed in the hospital. On the third day, Mrs. Patel could sit up at a 45-degree angle. She began walking on the fourth day and worked with a physical therapist on the fifth day, just prior to being discharged from the hospital.
“While I was in the hospital, the nurses all looked after me and were very good,” Mrs. Patel said. “I was lucky to have the same nurses for most of my stay. They were very kind and responded promptly whenever I needed help. It was actually a very pleasant experience, although I don’t want to go back any time soon.”
Once Mrs. Patel returned home, her mother traveled from Dallas to help care for her for about five weeks. The hospital also arranged for a physical therapist to work with her at home.
“My body heals fairly quickly, and the fact that I’ve always been healthy probably helped my recovery,” she added. “Plus, I’ve always maintained a positive attitude, and I was determined to get back to work. The physical therapist was wonderful, and I was so delighted to go outside for a walk within two weeks of surgery.”
The switch from using a walker to walking with only a cane for support came after about six sessions with the physical therapist. She wore a specially designed body brace for about three months and was back at work within five months.
“I needed to avoid lifting heavy objects and twisting or turning awkwardly,” she stated. “I also took more breaks at work to sit and rest, but my workplace was very accommodating, and my co-workers have been a great help.”
Mrs. Patel also credits Dr. Eichbaum’s care coordinator, Judy Komenovich, with making her recovery easier.
“Judy always swiftly returned my calls with answers to all my questions,” she said. “It makes a big difference to have someone handle all those details. I have been planning a trip to Dallas to visit my mother, and Judy even helped me obtain a letter explaining the titanium rods in my back, so I can go through airport security with ease,” she continued.
Overall, Mrs. Patel’s experience with Washington Hospital’s Minimally Invasive Spine Program was positive. “I want other people to know that there is hope when you face a situation like I did,” she added. “I’ve heard of people who had to undergo repeat surgeries or who had complications with conditions like mine. I was very, very fortunate to find Dr. Eichbaum. He’s an awesome doctor, and I’ve told him I had a lucky star over my head when I found him.”
To learn more about the Minimally Invasive Spine Program at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/neuroscience/spine.