Our patients describe their experiences at BIDMC
'Dr. Papavassiliou was able to do what none of the others could. He turned my life around.'
In her own words, Natalie Lorizio "is not one to sit back." So when she learned from Efstathios Papavassiliou, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Spine Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, that lumbar laminectomy surgery would alleviate her persistent back pain, she barely hesitated. She says, "Dr. Papavassiliou and I had a long talk. He told me after the surgery I'd be walking without a walker or cane in a few months. Of course there were risks, too, so he told me to think about it. Before I reached the elevator after the appointment, I told my daughter-in-law, 'I'm going for it.'"
Mrs. Lorizio's pain had grown progressively worse over several years, and was exacerbated further by a fall in 2009. The diagnosis was lumbar spinal stenosis, and one of the many doctors she saw implied that she was close to needing a wheelchair. "They tried everything and nothing worked," says Mrs. Lorizio. "That's when I was referred to Dr. Papavassiliou. He was able to do what none of the others could. He turned my life around."
Following her surgery, Mrs. Lorizio felt immediate relief. "The pain I had all those years wasn't there. It made me wonder how many other people would take this step if they knew it could open the door for them to be able to live again. I feel reborn." Mrs. Lorizio's recovery continued at home, with friends, family, and visiting physical therapists and nurses there to lend a hand. Currently in her 80s, the pain had taken a toll on her. She notes, "When I next saw my son, he said I looked 10 years younger." Dr. Papavassiliou was also pleased. Mrs. Lorizio says, "He shared my joy and appreciation."
- Natalie Lorizio, Avon, MA
'My surgeon used a new approach that's less invasive.'
I'm a supervisor for a company that manufactures plastic liners for drums. It's a physically demanding position in which I'm involved with machinery. When I learned that I had spondylolisthesis, I had to decide whether to undergo surgery or get injections. I opted for injections. After three years, I started getting pain again, and injections didn't work. This time, I opted for surgery.
My orthopaedic practice recommended Dr. Andrew White. I researched him online and was impressed. After X-rays and CT scans, Dr. White described what he could do for me. He explained everything thoroughly and answered all my questions. Some of my questions he didn't expect, but he said, "Good question." A few weeks before surgery, he called with good news: After reviewing his notes and my images, he thought he could go at it a different way that was less invasive, with a much faster recovery. I agreed to it.
As a surgery patient, I found that the hospital was well-managed, and the staff members were experienced and courteous. After the surgery, I was sore but I was walking and able to leave the hospital the next day. The surgery relieved the symptoms - my feet, ankles and legs feel better, and the back pain itself has dissipated a lot. I went back to work within several weeks. To other patients, I would say, "Lay out all your options, do your research, and see what's the best thing for you." That's what I did.
- Thomas Nelson, MA
'I could see on their faces they were suffering with me. They are a special group.'
"Just like that, I came running out of the room. It was wonderful," says George Pinksten of the first morning he woke up pain free, after five weeks of suffering.
Pinksten fell on his back on an icy January morning and was taken by ambulance to a local community hospital for X-rays, prescribed medication and sent home. "I couldn't sit down; I couldn't lie down; the pain was debilitating," says Pinksten.
He was referred to the Spine Center, where he met Musa Aner, MD, an anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist. Pinksten recalls, "The first thing he said was, 'I can see that you're suffering.' He ordered a CT scan and an MRI. The technicians must have apologized a dozen times, because positioning me for the tests was very painful."
Pinksten was diagnosed with a lumbar fracture. His treatment plan involved medication for the pain and being fitted for a back brace. He was followed closely at the Spine Center, where medications were adjusted and the brace prescription was changed to nighttime use only.
Pinksten says, "The first time I walked into Dr. Aner's office and sat comfortably in a chair, he said, 'That's great!' Everyone in the office was smiling. They are a special group."
- George Pinksten, Revere, MA
'Dr. Muzin made me hopeful.'
Waking up that morning pain free took Elena Carangelo by surprise. For months, she suffered with severe hip and lower back pain. "I had problems standing; walking, especially up stairs; and sleeping. The pain was affecting every aspect of my life. My doctor prescribed pills, but they didn't help. I was depressed and just tried to bear with it." Then she got a referral to Dr. Muzin.
After a thorough review of her history and physical exam, Dr. Muzin appropriately diagnosed the condition and explained that it could be successfully managed with one injection to the hip, rather than with surgery or more pills.
She says, "I was skeptical at first because nothing to this point had worked, but he took the time to explain everything to me, which made me hopeful and more confident in the treatment."
Elena had the hip injection treatment in an outpatient procedure and went home to rest. "The next morning, I got up not even thinking about it, when all of a sudden I realized that there was no pain. I had slept through the night. I went to the door to get the newspaper at the bottom of the steps. I picked it up and walked back up the steps normally - pain free! It was amazing. Unless you've lived with pain, you cannot know the feeling of what it means to be pain free. I'm so grateful for the everyday joys and life's simple pleasures."
- Elena Carangelo
'If I had to rate the care from 1 to 10, I'd give it a 10+.'
At 75 years of age, I found that I was experiencing tingling in my fingers. I couldn't move my arms over my head, and was walking in a crooked line. I learned that my condition was cervical myelopathy due to spinal cord compression. I went to other specialists before Dr. Papavassiliou. At that meeting I knew he would be the one to operate on me. He was a professional who knew what he was talking about. He was very nice, with some smiles although it was a serious topic.
I had an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion. I was treated with dignity, and everything they said they would do, they followed through. I made a special request about anesthesia and everything went exactly as I had asked. I had the procedure on Monday morning and was quite surprised to be up and walking with a nurse's help on Monday night.
I can now lift my arms and walk in a straight line, and I can hold things without dropping them, which I couldn't do before. I was more than satisfied with the doctor and his team. If I had to rate the care at Beth Israel Deaconess from 1 to 10, I'd give it a 10+. Also, they sent me home with all the forms filled in and I didn't have to worry about a thing.
- Lorraine, Cape Cod, MA
'Before my surgery I didn't go out … but now I'm on the move!'
"For 30 years I had back problems resulting from an old back injury. I'm 61 years old, so that tells you how long I have had problems. It had gotten to the point where I was walking with a cane and shuffling around like a 99-year-old man. It was frustrating because I'm an active guy, and I own my own business. My primary care physician referred me to a specialist, who tried steroid shots, but I didn't see much improvement. I was then referred to Dr. White, who talked to me about the possibility of surgery and I didn't hesitate - I had the surgery."
Dr. White performed a laminectomy without fusion to correct Sciore's lumbar spinal stenosis. "After the surgery, I immediately felt better. It was like a miracle had happened. The months before my surgery, I didn't go out if I didn't have to, but now, if you're going to hang around with me, you better be on roller skates, because I'm on the move! Everyone at the hospital was wonderful."
- Timothy Sciore, Brockton, MA
'My doctor showed genuine concern.'
An acute flare up of lumbar radiculitis, more commonly known as sciatica, sent Pamela Gostanian-Tewksbury, 54, by ambulance to BIDMC with debilitating lower-back pain. There she met Dr. Muzin. An MRI showed that she was suffering from lumbar spondylosis (a spondylotic ridge contacting a nerve root in the spine). "Dr. Muzin took the time to explain everything with me and suggested an epidural steroid injection. I was a little nervous. I didn't like the idea of getting a shot in the spine, but he was wonderful. He showed genuine concern and during the procedure, he was very good to me." Pamela received a transforaminal epidural steroid injection and is back to doing everyday tasks without any pain. "I am very happy I had it done and very happy with Dr. Muzin."
- Pamela Gostanian-Tewksbury, Roslindale, MA
'My PCP steered me in the right direction when he referred me to the Spine Center.'
For months, Carol Theriault, 78, suffered from the pain of spinal stenosis. "The pain went down my back to the front of my legs. I couldn't walk or stand for any period of time. I couldn't even walk through the grocery store it was so bad. I first went to see Dr. McGuire who suggested I see Dr. Muzin. He gave me a transforaminal epidural steroid injection. I got up off that table with no pain and I haven't had any pain since. I can't believe it. It's like a miracle. I saw my family over the Easter holiday and they couldn't believe how well I was doing. I told my primary care doctor that he steered me in the right direction when he referred me to the Spine Center. I can walk. I can shop. I have a part-time job that requires me to stand, but now I work with no discomfort. I'm so happy."
- Carol Theriault, Brockton, MA
'If I could have gotten a halo, I would have given it Dr. Papavassiliou. He did an excellent job.'
Sudden numbness in his hand and left foot caused by bulging disks on his spinal cord left Clarence Buggs unable to participate in any of his favorite activities. "I could hardly walk. I had to use crutches and drag my leg along," he says.
After a consultation with Efstathios Papavassiliou, MD, neurosurgeon at the Spine Center, he underwent surgery to correct the problem, which was diagnosed as cord compression due to cervical disc herniation. "The morning after the surgery, I could move my hand and was moving my leg. If I could have gotten a halo, I would have given it to Dr. Papavassiliou. He did an excellent job," says Buggs.
An avid fan, Buggs now is able to attend Boston Public Schools' sporting events again and listen to his favorite rhythm and blues music much more comfortably. "The crutches are put away; my physical therapists are thrilled; I'm getting stronger every day," he says. "I look forward to going fishing this summer."
Of his care at the Spine Center, he says, "Dr. Papavassiliou went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I was okay. I didn't have a worry in the world. He took all my fear away and did a tremendous job."
- Clarence Buggs, Dorchester, MA
'That man was a genius. I went from a wheelchair to being 85 percent back to normal.'
In the early morning hours of an August Saturday, Barbara Legatowicz was awakened by excruciating back pain. She says, "It just hit all of a sudden, and the pain didn't work itself out." Barbara emailed her primary care physician, Peter Zuromskis, MD. "I saw Dr. Zuromskis and we began trying to identify the problem and alleviate the pain. He prescribed medications, ordered imaging studies, and referred me to physical therapy. When the pain persisted, he said the next logical step was a referral to the Spine Center," she says.
After looking at the MRI, Andrew P. White, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Spine Center, identified three disk herniations that could be related to her pain. Legatowitz says, "Although surgery was an option, Dr. White suggested trying an epidural injection treatment to see if that would help. That's when I met Dr. Muzin. He told me what to expect before, during and after the injections. Two weeks after the second one, I was able to walk a half mile. That man was a genius." Today, Legatowicz continues her recovery with help from the physical therapy department at Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare-Lexington.
"I questioned whether I would be able to do anything," says Legatowicz. "When the pain was at its worst, I would set tiny goals for myself - find a comfortable position to sleep sitting up, use an office chair with wheels to get from one room to the next, stand for five seconds. I arrived at the Spine Center in a wheelchair because I couldn't get from the front door to the office. I give everyone I met at BIDMC credit, from the people who do the scheduling and the radiology technicians, to the doctors and the physical therapists. Now I am 85 percent back to normal. I was able to shovel snow and rake the roof this winter, and am looking forward to getting back to golf this summer."
- Barbara Legatowicz, Lowell, MA
'Dr. Papavassiliou was determined to find the problem with my back.'
For two years, 65-year-old Constance Sharp went from doctor to doctor trying to find out what was causing her debilitating back pain and get relief. It wasn't until she met with Dr. Papavassiliou that she got some answers and eventual relief.
"I was having chronic pain in my back down to my feet. I went to everyone imaginable, including to some of the other teaching hospitals. Nobody could tell me what was causing the pain because I can't have an MRI. I was prescribed medication and physical therapy, but they didn't work and I still didn't know what was causing my pain. The pain was so bad it was difficult to do anything.
"Dr. Papavassiliou got down to the nitty-gritty. He was the only one who was determined to find the problem with my back. He did a different type of screening -- a myelogram -- and discovered what everyone else couldn't; that I had stenosis. He performed lumbar laminectomy and spinal fusion surgery using a piece of hip bone. That was about three years ago. I subsequently had other problems and Dr. Papavassiliou performed two other surgeries including an additional lumbar laminectomy and a spinal fusion surgery.
"Now I am much better! People don't understand that back problems don't affect just your back; they affect everything from the back down. Now I am able to do the day-to-day things around my house that I couldn't do before and I am back to walking. For a while I didn't see my young granddaughter because she couldn't understand why grandma couldn't play with her, but now I am able to see her and enjoy playing with her. I just finished my physical therapy and I would send anyone who has back problems to see Dr. Papavassiliou."
- Constance Sharp, Taunton, MA
'Had I known how great I was going to feel … I wouldn't have put off surgery.'
"If I had know how great I was going to feel after the surgery, I wouldn't have put it off," says Carol Ann Hentschel, age 65, following complex neck surgery. She required decompression of her spinal cord followed by a fusion to restore the stability of her spine. "I thought I had a stiff neck, but an MRI showed that I had a serious problem. I was referred to Dr. White who did the surgery and was terrific. They couldn't believe how well I did in my recovery. They expected that I would be in the hospital for five days, but I was home in just three. I'm thrilled. Everyone was wonderful. I can go to the ball field and watch my grandson play, and I'm at the gym working out three to four days a week!"
- Carol Ann Hentschel, Kingston, MA
'I don't have the pain I had before.'
Despite living with arthritis, Adar Ruth Hemingway remained active and involved in the community, particularly through her volunteer work with Action for Boston Community Development's Foster Grandparents Program. In June of 2011, however, she did not think she would make it to the program's end-of-the-year celebration. Hemingway says, "I had been having pain that felt different from the arthritis. It went down my thighs. Some days were okay, but others were not. When it first started about a year earlier, I didn't know what was going on."
The summer before, an MRI of Hemingway's spine had led to a referral to the Spine Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a diagnosis of spinal stenosis-a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. She says, "I met Dr. Papavassiliou that August. He recommended surgery at that time, but I wasn't ready. I wanted to try my other options first, so the Spine Center staff connected me to those services." Hemingway began a physical therapy program, which initially was helpful. In September, she received steroid injections at the Spine Center to reduce inflammation and relieve pressure. "The injections helped and I was happy," she says.
The pain returned a few months later, though. Hemingway says, "I hated going to bed. The only place I could get comfortable was in one particular chair that my children got for me." That was when she decided that surgery was the way to go, and says, "I knew I had to have it and Dr. Papavassiliou knew I needed to have it. I put my faith in Dr. Papavassiliou and in the Lord."
Papavassiliou performed the surgery to relieve the pressure on Hemingway's spine. Now four months post-surgery, Hemingway says, "I am walking so well. I don't have the pain I had before. I told Dr. Papavassiliou I wanted to kiss him!"
- Adar Ruth Hemingway, Boston, MA
'No words can express my never-ending gratitude.'
Even as a child, Kristina Mustone experienced an achy back. After she became a paramedic in the North Shore area, the problem intensified, despite the physical therapy she tried.
In October of 2008, Mustone and her husband planned the trip of a lifetime to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. Just before the trip, she experienced searing pain, as well as other neurological symptoms of concern. Barely able to walk, she was prescribed pain medication that allowed her to tolerate the long plane trip, but 24 hours after their arrival, Mustone and her husband knew they had to come home.
Mustone packed a bag on an October Tuesday and went to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Emergency Department. She says, "I knew when I left home that I wouldn't be coming back for a while." After an MRI, Andrew P. White, MD, was consulted. Mustone says, "Dr. White told the emergency staff not to let me leave the hospital. He came to see me the next morning. I was diagnosed with severe compression of the nerves in the spine." Dr. White performed a complex lumbar decompression and fusion surgery for Mustone, and now she says, "He fixed me!"
Mustone's gratitude toward the Spine Center and Dr. White continues to this day, inspiring her to send the following:
Hi Dr. White,
Three years ago, you operated on my back and it was without a doubt the scariest day of my life. I want to say thank you once again for fixing me. I'm doing awesome and, though I have days when I'm mildly sore or achy, it's nothing like the debilitating pain I had just prior to surgery. I will always be grateful for the gifted people like you that are out there. What you do is truly amazing, and there really are no words that can express my never-ending gratitude and appreciation. I can walk and have back my normal bodily functions because of you. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for allowing me to have a full life.
Happy anniversary! :-)
- Kristina Mustone, Boston's North Shore
'The care I got was the opposite of formulaic.'
Joanne Ayoub, a dynamic leader in her profession who enjoys exercise and often travels internationally, came to the Spine Center after six months of severe neck pain.
She notes, "The pain was really limiting me and diminishing my quality of life. When I was driving, I had trouble turning my head to check the blind spot. I thought when I flew on a plane, I'd always have to ask for help to lift my luggage into the overhead bin.
"I met first with Dr. Kevin McGuire, who said, 'I can see the way you're standing and the pain you're in. We have to figure out what's going on.' He immediately got me an MRI and a diagnosis. Dr. McGuire explained that I had real degeneration of several of my cervical vertebrae, and described with pictures how this happens. He said, 'First we have to help you break the pain cycle so we can think about therapies to assist you. I'd like you to see Dr. Aner.'
"When I met Dr. Aner, I was immediately struck by the amount of time he spent with me, educating me about the cervical spine and why I might be seeing the degeneration. He said that there was no disease present, and patients like me could do very well with certain therapies. He said 'We're going to go step by step, and stick to this until we figure out what works for you. Given what I'm seeing, it will be a combination of therapies.'
"For the first time in months, I felt like I really understood what was going on and knew I had to do something."
For Joanne, the right combination of therapies was an injection to provide relief from the pain, physical therapy, and acupuncture. She says, "It was truly the opposite of formulaic-it was what was right for me. I worked with a wonderful physical therapist at BIDMC, Tina Nebhnani, who specializes in cervical spine issues and works closely with Dr. Aner.
"At one point I had all three therapies in play. Throughout, I continued to see Dr. Aner. He was on top of what was going on with the various providers. As patients, we often worry about whether there's good communication from provider to provider: Does one hand know what the other hand is doing? In this journey it was clear to me that people were talking!
"What ended up happening is I broke the pain cycle, which I never thought I could do. I learned to strengthen other muscles that were dormant for years. The area of discomfort will never go away, but my activities aren't stalled-for example, I can play tennis again. I'm grateful to everyone who helped me get back to being active and healthy."
- Joanne Ayoub, Boston