When his doctors asked Samuel Jones to rate his back and spine pain on a scale from 1 to 10, he said it was 15 to 20. And it’s no surprise. Jones, a retired patent agent from Midland, Michigan, had had an operation to repair a ruptured disc in 1974 with no further problems. Then, when he came back in 2014 from a wonderful vacation with his family in Hawaii, everything was different.
“I went from a little pain now and then to excruciating pain,” Jones says. He couldn’t walk without help. He couldn’t go up or down stairs. To make matters worse, it was hard to diagnose his problem because his previous quadruple bypass and pacemaker prevented an MRI.
Looking for pain relief
A CT myelogram, which uses dye, revealed that he had very serious spinal stenosis—a condition caused by a narrowing of the space surrounding the spinal cord or nerves. Jones’s primary care physician referred him to a local surgeon who wasn’t available to do the surgery. Instead, that surgeon referred Jones to University of Michigan’s Dr. Frank LaMarca.
“I’m so glad he did,” Jones said. “I had been treated by four different specialists without any relief. When Dr. LaMarca saw the original myelogram he said, ‘I think there are more problems in the upper back, and I think you need to have another myelogram.’”
Spine surgery was needed to avoid paralysis
Dr. LaMarca says, “Mr. Jones was found to have two large anterior masses compressing his spinal cord at two different levels. Although pain was his major complaint, his degree of spinal cord compression and neurological deficit put him at an impending risk for irreversible paralysis. The repeat CT myelogram at U-M allowed us to better assess the extent of his lesions and plan the urgent surgery appropriately.”
Jones says, “He took one look at the X-rays, and said, ‘We’ll operate tomorrow.’”
“Dr. LaMarca realized that the spinal stenosis allowed the discs to rub on my spinal cord. He got in and cleared all that stuff up. After surgery, he told my wife, ‘I’ve gotten rid of his problem.’”
Today, Jones has four vertebrae that are fused together. And he has mobility.
“I can do a lot more than I ever thought I would. I walk anywhere. I go up and down stairs. I drive. I do most of the things I used to do, like traveling with my wife of 57 years, visiting with my children and seeing my grandchildren.
“What I love about Dr. LaMarca is that he loves challenges, and I gave him one. I have a lot of respect for him and everyone at U of M.”
Jones’s rehabilitation entailed about three weeks of physical therapy on site. He also credits U-M with having Med Inn, an onsite hotel, which enabled his wife and family to be close to him while he was in surgery and during the holidays.
After 4 months of transporting her husband in a wheelchair while he was in pain, Jones’s wife says that Dr. LaMarca and the University of Michigan “saved our life!”
In December 2016, Samuel Jones and his wife Betty celebrated the one-year anniversary of his surgery and his 80th birthday—pain free.
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Frank LaMarca, M.D., received his medical degree from Catholic University in Italy. He completed both a residency in neurosurgery and a fellowship in complex spine surgery at Northwestern University in Illinois. Dr. LaMarca joined the University of Michigan’s Department of Neurosurgery in 2003. He specializes in adult and pediatric complex spinal deformity and scoliosis surgery.
The University of Michigan’s multidisciplinary clinical neurosciences team is made up of more than 70 nationally recognized neurologists, neuroanesthesiologists and neurosurgeons. Leading the way in brain, spine and nervous system care for close to 100 years; patients have access to services that can be found at only a handful of places; as well as innovative treatments with the latest research. Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan Health System have been recognized by U.S. News & World Report numerous times for excellence in patient care.