Debilitating neck pain, solved with a methodical approach
Lou Ferrao knew something was terribly wrong. He had suffered from neck pain before. He even had surgery, which gave him limited relief. But the neck pain he felt now was severe and accompanied by other, more ominous, symptoms. He had been experiencing spasms and weakness in his legs and now had begun experiencing the same symptoms in his arms.
Lou had always been an active man. He loved to scuba dive and was certified as a rescue diver; a designation only awarded after completing what some divers call the most challenging course they’ve ever taken. He loved to walk and hike. Now, he found his legs no longer responding to the directions that he was giving. It was devastating.
Determined to find the reason behind his troubling symptoms, Lou visited a neurologist who diagnosed him with severe nerve damage on his left side and moderate damage on the right. His neurologist then referred him to the Sentara Back & Neck Center and Dr. Paymaun Lotfi, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery, to determine the cause of the damage.
As Lou went through a series of tests prescribed by Dr. Lotfi, his condition continued to deteriorate. He was no longer able to open a bottle or write a letter, and when he moved from a room with carpet to one with wood floors, he would lose his balance and stumble.
After all the tests had been completed, Dr. Lotfi diagnosed Lou with cervical spinal stenosis.
Dr. Lotfi explains, “It’s a condition that causes narrowing of the cervical spinal canal and chronic compression of the spinal cord and nerves; this causes numbness and weakness in arms and legs as brain signals can’t reach extremities.”
Dr. Lotfi suggested a spinal laminectomy and fusion, which removes the back part of the vertebrae, decompressing the spinal cord. The spinal column is then stabilized by placing screws and rods in the spine. Since Lou’s condition had been longstanding, Dr. Lotfi explained that he might not regain all his lost strength and lost functions, but it was important to decompress his spine to prevent weakness, paralysis or something even worse.
Lou appreciated the time that Dr. Lotfi spent explaining his condition.
“When Dr. Lotfi sat down with us, his empathy really showed. He tried to put himself in my shoes. He showed us the MRI. You couldn’t see my spinal cord from C2-T2 because it was so compressed," Lou said. “He gave me an in-depth explanation of what was going on. He was educating me at the same time as he was helping me.”
After listening to Dr. Lotfi, Lou realized that the surgery wasn’t about feeling better; it was about survival. With his wife’s agreement, Lou made the decision to have surgery at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.
The day of the surgery, everything went well. Dr. Lotfi was with Lou when he woke up and actually removed his cervical collar at that time. Lou suffered very little pain from the procedure and within four days was up and at rehab several hours a day.
Life is better for Lou now. While damage to the spinal cord can sometimes take years to heal, Dr. Lotfi says, “He (Lou) had a rapid recovery, and almost immediately could tell the difference in improved strength in his arms and legs.”
Lou no longer has the severe neck pain that plagued him, and he has regained his sense of balance and is walking with a cane. He is slowly getting his endurance back. He describes his life before and after his surgery as “the difference between night and day.”
Lou can’t say enough about Dr. Lotfi and his experience, “He (Dr. Lotfi) lives up to the Hippocratic oath. He was my guardian angel. It (the surgery) was the best thing I ever did.”
Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from spinal pain don’t seek help. They endure the discomfort and inconvenience for years because of many different reasons.
Dr. Lotfi understands this but says, “(You) may understandably be guarded about surgical treatment of the spine. However, many conditions such as stenosis are very disabling, and a properly executed surgery can truly improve one’s quality of life and function.”
Lou agrees and adds, “People shouldn’t have to suffer because they don’t know a procedure can help them.”