Patient Stories

Read how treatment at the OHSU Spine Center made a difference in patients' lives.

Meet Susan

Susan P. - OHSU Spine patient story“Hiking is where I’m in my element," said Susan P., a Portland resident. "And I’m doing it, thanks to the team at the Spine Center. The team approach is exactly what makes the difference at OHSU. I injured my back when I was 27, and I had tried everything for the pain — or so I thought. OHSU gave me options and empowered me with the tools to take control of the pain myself, without surgery or medication. And now I’m able to do what I love most, thanks to the OHSU Spine Center team. And that’s what life’s all about.”

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Meet Michelle

Meet Josh

Josh, who’s in his 40s, races dragon boats nearly year-round, even in the rain.

Dragon boat racing is a difficult sport. It involves using back muscles, twisting and pulling a paddle.

After two days of serious racing in August 2015, Josh's back was killing him, and pain was shooting down one leg. The next day, he couldn’t get out of bed. He thought the pain would subside with rest.

He had experienced back problems and other injuries before. In 2001, while working at a lumberyard in Hawaii, Josh slipped while unloading molding in the rain. He moved quickly to catch the load, hurting his back.

A month later, he was hit by a car while riding his bike home from work. He had surgery on his leg and was unable to walk for a year. He healed and, in the four years before the dragon boat pain, his back was completely pain-free.

But after his 2015 injury, Josh’s pain quickly became excruciating. Bent over and unable to walk, he was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where he received pain medication and a referral for an MRI scan.

The MRI showed a herniated disc pressing against his spinal nerves. His primary care doctor referred Josh to OHSU spine surgeon Dr. Jason Chang.

Dr. Chang showed Josh and his sister the X-ray and explained what was going on. The bones of his spine were not lined up because an old fracture didn’t heal properly. Over time, his body had worn down the disc, and the nerves had become irritated. This can often occur when fractures don’t heal well.

Dr. Chang helped Josh work through whether to have surgery. By then, Josh’s whole leg was numb, and he was hunched over and couldn’t walk. He opted to have it.

The surgery fixed the bones and freed the nerve. Josh’s pain vanished.

As part of his recovery, Josh does strengthening exercises with a physical therapist. Now he’s able to mow the lawn, rake leaves and do other normal stuff. He also asked Dr. Chang about returning to dragon boat racing. Dr. Chang expects him to be back in the boat soon.

Meet Denise

Denise had always been active and healthy, often biking 100 miles a week or more. But when she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, her life changed dramatically.

She began having problems with a disc in her lower back. She couldn't sleep in bed because lying down was too painful. Sitting for any length of time was also next to impossible. Denise, 47, would often eat at restaurants standing up. She had a hard time sitting for classes in school, where she is studying nursing.

Denise had to buy a zero-gravity chair to sleep, and even then she slept for only a few hours at a time. Her lack of sleep and the constant pain made it hard to focus on studying and her regular activities.

She tried physical therapy, steroid shots, pain medication and sleeping pills, but none helped. Another spine doctor said she might be a candidate for a total disc replacement and referred her to Dr. Robert Hart at OHSU.

"I had been in pain for a year, and it kept getting worse. I was desperate when I went to see Dr. Hart," said Denise, who lives in Oregon City.

After thorough research into treatment options, Denise had a total disc replacement. As soon as she woke up, she knew the surgery had been successful. For the first time in more than a year, she was lying flat in bed without pain.

"Dr. Hart gave me my life back. I can sleep in my own bed again, and I can sleep comfortably in any position. I can walk and ride my bike and work in my garden again. I would have been happy with a 50 percent improvement, but I feel 100 percent again," Denise said.

The lack of sleep and constant agony had taken its toll on Denise's emotional well-being. The normally self-described "happy-go-lucky" woman had lost her vitality and a lot of her positive attitude. Within weeks of being able to sleep normally and live without pain, she started to feel like herself again.

"I still wake up every day and thank God and Dr. Hart for the fact that I'm not in pain anymore."