Beth & Chris

Sisters, ACDF surgery

As sisters, Chris and Beth have several things in common. They both love being out in the garden. They have a creative streak and enjoy making items of sentimental value. They have strong bonds with family, love the theater, and are allergic to cats. And in the fall of 2012, Chris and Beth discovered, to their surprise, that they had something unexpected in common. Both were suffering from debilitating neck and back pain. "I knew Beth was having an issue, but we never clicked with what the issue was," Chris says. "It turned out we were having the same problem." In keeping with their strong commonality, Chris and Beth both saw the same specialist, Christopher McPherson, MD, of Mayfield Brain & Spine; they both had surgery at the Mayfield Spine Surgery Center; and they both had surgery on the same day. Both underwent an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) but at different levels in the cervical spine: Chris at C5-6 and Beth at C6-7.

"When I saw Chris and Beth separately in the office, at first I did not realize they were sisters," Dr. McPherson says. "Beth actually told me, and when they both decided to proceed with surgery almost within the same week, I told them we should do the surgery the same day. That way they could go through the surgery and the recovery together. The scheduling worked for both and they decided to go ahead. I have certainly treated multiple members of families before, but I have never operated on two members of the same family on the same day before! It was quite an experience for everyone involved." Chris, who is six years older than Beth, works at a fast-paced job as a print consultant for a local printing company. The pain in her neck began for no apparent reason. Over time it became a daily nuisance, the pain growing worse as the afternoon wore on. "I felt like I was carrying around a big golf bag on my shoulder," she says. "There was a pulling sensation between my neck and my shoulder. I couldn't get comfortable sleeping, and I couldn't get comfortable while working at my desk."

Beth, who has a stressful job as the professional administrator to a hospital CEO, had been involved in a car accident about 10 years earlier, and the pain from severe whiplash had never fully gone away. For years she suffered periodic muscle spasms in her shoulder blades. Then, in mid-2012, the spasms became more frequent and severe. "The discomfort would begin in my shoulders and extend downward, causing my right arm and hand to become numb and making it difficult for me to do my work," she says. Chris knew of Dr. McPherson, who had performed a successful cervical procedure on one of her colleagues.

Beth was referred to Dr. McPherson by her primary care physician, Mark Rudemiller, MD. Chris had one epidural steroid injection, which did not help her, and both sisters tried physical therapy for several months, without success. "I would be sitting at my desk or doing something around the house and the muscle spasms would begin with such pain that it startled me and I would have to stop what I was doing and wait for them to stop," Beth says. "Sometimes my hand and arm would go numb while I was at work typing, and I had to stop for a while and do the exercises from therapy to ease the numbness and pain."

When Chris and Beth decided that surgery was inevitable, Chris says, "We went with Dr. McPherson's suggestion to have it on the same day, in the same place." Naturally, the elder sister would go first. Chris was already in her preoperative room when Beth arrived. Beth went back to give her a hug and wish her good luck. Dr. McPherson then entered and made them both feel at home. "Since I have both of you here together, let's go over what is going to happen so I don't have to repeat it twice," he said with a smile."That got a good laugh from all of us," Beth says. "That was quite an experience, and Chris and I felt better sharing it with each other and our families. Dr. McPherson was so good-humored and had such a positive attitude that he put us completely at ease. We knew we were in good hands." During an ACDF procedure, Dr. McPherson makes a small incision in the front of the patient's neck and removes the disc, or a portion of the disc, that is causing problems. He then places a graft into the empty disc space. The graft serves as a bridge between the vertebra above it and the one below.

With Chris and Beth, Dr. McPherson secured the graft and vertebrae with a metal plate and two screws. Over a period of several months, the grafts fuse to the vertebrae, providing stability and normal spine alignment. It was at this juncture that Chris and Beth's cases diverged. Chris doubled her consumption of a fruit and vegetable supplement and, with help from her husband, Tim, and her daughters was able to meticulously follow the lifting restrictions and walking recommendations. She recovered so quickly that she was back to work and able to walk two miles within two weeks.

Beth's recovery took longer. Smokers are strongly advised to give up smoking before surgery because studies show that cigarette smoking can adversely affect new bone formation, which is necessary for a spinal fusion to heal. A light smoker, Beth was not able to quit completely before her surgery. "The morning of my surgery, I sat on my back porch and had one last cigarette to calm my nerves," she says. "About 10 minutes after that, my son and his fiancée picked me up to go to the Surgery Center. When Dr. McPherson came in to reassure me one last time, my family had already gone out to the waiting room. He told me that 'two little birds' had told him that they saw me on my back porch sneaking a cigarette! He kiddingly chastised me for it – at least I think he was kidding. He made me promise not to smoke anymore after the surgery."

Beth developed bronchitis after her surgery, and her healing progressed more slowly and with more discomfort than Chris's. However, with time Beth came to have the same success that her sister Chris was having. "I was so pleased to see Beth back at her three-month follow-up," Dr. McPherson says. "I actually saw both Beth and Chris back on the same day. They were both doing superbly and were so pleased with their outcome," said Christopher McPherson, MD. Today, both Chris and Beth are living normal, pain-free lives. Chris can sleep without tossing and turning, and Beth is able to sleep lying down flat again. Chris can let her grandchildren hug her without fearing a lightning-bolt of pain, and Beth, in her words, is once again "working hard at work instead of hardly working because of the pain" and doing housework and yard work without physical suffering. Meanwhile, Beth has made good on her promise to Dr. McPherson. She has not had another cigarette since that morning. Her big sister, Chris, "is very proud of her for that!"


Disclaimer - "Beth & Chris's Story" is about two patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.


Beth & Chris

Dr. Christopher McPherson