OAA Patient Ambassador: Meet Cindy

May 01, 2016

Meet Cindy — an accountant that enjoys being active and doing crafts in her free time. Unfortunately, Cindy suffered from significant back pain that caused her to forgo most of the activities she loved. “I couldn’t lift my youngest grandson, I couldn’t sleep through the night, and I even had a difficult time sitting to read or watch television because of the pain,” Cindy recalled.
Photo of Cindy with her family.

After a long history of conservative treatment, including physical therapy, injections, NSAIDs, and behavior modification, Cindy could no longer control her pain level in any way. She decided to take advice from a coworker and scheduled an appointment with Dr. Stephen Falatyn of OAA’s Spine Center of Excellence.

Dr. Falatyn diagnosed Cindy with lumbar spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. Spinal stenosis is a Spine Surgeon, Dr. Stephen Falatyncompression of the nerve roots that causes narrowing of the bone channel occupied by the spinal nerves or spinal cord. This is typically caused by bone spurs due to aging or a prior accident. The compression and narrowing worsens over time until it becomes unbearable. Cindy dealt with her back pain for years, but when leg pain and weakness presented itself; she knew she had to take a more serious approach to healing her pain. In addition to Cindy’s lumbar spinal stenosis, Dr. Falatyn also diagnosed her with spondylolisthesis, which causes excessive shifting of the vertebrae. Unfortunately, this made Cindy’s stenosis and symptoms even worse.

“Dr. Falatyn told me his diagnosis and I asked about various treatment methods. He explained to me in detail why surgery was my only real course of action, and he understood that I was frightened,” said Cindy, as she reflected back on hearing the news that her condition required surgery. Dr. Falatyn is well known for his reputation for personalized patient care. “I understand that patients are apprehensive when seeing a surgeon. I believe if I explain the condition and treatment options clearly to the patient then they will have the information they need to make the best decision for their care. I originally worked as an engineer after finishing college at Cornell University. Engineers are taught how to think and make complex problems easier to solve. Like engineering, spine problems can be very complex but they are solvable.  Patients need a surgeon who understands the person and the problem.  This leads to successful surgery and happy patients like Cindy” Dr. Falatyn explained. 

Dr. Falatyn performed a laminectomy and a fusion on Cindy’s spine. The laminectomy served to remove the bone spurs and take pressure off the compressed nerve roots, and the fusion stabilized Cindy’s spine. When asked about her recovery after surgery, Cindy excitedly shared, “I woke without any pain down my legs!” The recovery process was far from over though: “I had to relearn how to hold my balance when I stood and I wasn’t allowed to bend or twist in any way. Dr. Falatyn told me to walk as much as I could and that was excellent advice. I went back to work in four weeks and found the patient portal to be invaluable during the recovery process. I would ask a question or concern and would receive a response very quickly,” Cindy elaborated.

When asked what advice she would give someone with back pain, Cindy shared, “You may not have to live with back pain, but don’t wait to see Dr. Falatyn. He told me the longer a nerve is pinched the more chance there is of the pain becoming permanent. Recovery is a partnership between the patient and the doctor. Unless you are willing to help yourself get better, there is only so much the doctor can do. He will tell you what steps you need to take; you just have to push yourself to do what is recommended. I would also suggest that if surgery is the course of action, schedule it quickly. My nerves over the six weeks before my surgery had me sick. Get it over with and on the road to recovery.”

Dr. Falatyn also shared his advice, “Selecting the correct procedure for each patient that needs surgery is a critical part of the success story. It is sad when we see patients who come to my partners and me after having spine surgery elsewhere with poorly done or poorly planned surgery. Sometimes we can help those patients with a second surgery, but sometimes we cannot.” 

Dr. Falatyn finds great satisfaction from his patients and coworkers. “I love the people I work with! We are all integrated to get information and care to where it needs to be. I also have the best partners - if I send one of my patients to see another OAA physician for a non-spine condition I know they will receive great care,” Dr. Falatyn said. Dr. Falatyn has many happy patients like Cindy, but each one helps remind him why he loves his job.

As for Cindy, “You can’t tell that I had surgery at all and I can lift my grandson! Now I add activities to my list of goals instead of avoiding life because it hurt. Dr. Falatyn gave me my life back!”

Do you or a loved one have a similar story? Share your story with us, and you could be next month's patient ambassador!