Read how treatment at the OHSU Spine Center made a difference in patients' lives.
"Able to do what I love most"
“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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When I was 21, I broke my back. I fell at work and busted six discs. That was about 30 years ago. I've had multiple surgeries since. Things were deteriorating to the point where I couldn't walk, and it was affecting my everyday life. Because I'd already had so many surgeries, few doctors would look at me.
My wife and I did our research and that's how we learned about the OHSU Spine Center. I didn't think they'd accept my case — decades of back surgeries, chronic pain — but we got the call to come on up. I brought all my records: You can imagine the file from the past 30 years! When we met Dr. Lin, he sat and talked to me for an hour and then asked my wife if she had any questions, too. That meant a lot. We felt like human beings, and not just a number.
Dr. Lin showed interest and concern. He seemed like a very normal everyday Joe and was willing to work with me. He explained things in layman's terms: The hardware I'd had put in my back from previous surgeries was failing.
I had to try to alleviate the pain in my legs and arms, and I couldn't turn my neck anymore. And I didn't want to lose the ability to walk.
A few months later, I had surgery. Dr. Lin went in, took out all the failing hardware and replaced it with new screws, connectors, wires … you name it. He also did bone grafts from my spinous processes, the bumpy ridges at the back of my vertebrae.
The surgery took about five hours. The next morning, I sat up. I'd never done that before right after surgery. I was either flat or in a brace and couldn't move. Also, they had me walking the day after surgery. That was also new. I was in the hospital four days, the fewest ever after a major surgery. That was a new record for me, too. If I called for help or anything, there was always someone there to assist me. Everyone treated my wife with respect, too. That was very important to us.
It's been almost a year since my surgery, and I'm still plugging along. I have been given another chance to walk! I can move my arms and neck now, and walk, and take the dog out and toss the Frisbee. Everyone's situation is different, but I'd advise to never stop trying to improve what you did yesterday. You have to go forward. The minute you give up, you might as well jump in the hole and have someone cover you up.
I have no qualms about suggesting people to go to OHSU. I would recommend Dr. Lin to anyone.
About two years ago, I began to have a problem standing up straight. My back pulled to the right and down. The disfigurement distressed me. I was looking more and more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I didn't want my grandsons to see me like this. I had adult scoliosis, but because of my age — I'm in my mid-70s — my primary care provider said I wasn't a candidate for surgery.
I wanted to explore my options, so I went online to do some research. I made an appointment at the OHSU Spine Center. When I met with the team, we first discussed noninvasive options, but we could all see that my situation was serious. When I saw the results of the imaging they did, it was just disheartening. My spine looked like a "C."
When I met Dr. Lin, who would be my surgeon, I liked him very much. He seemed to be very open and honest. He said that this was serious scoliosis and that I was heading for a wheelchair, but questioned me intensely about why I thought surgery would be a good option. We spent considerable time together talking about risk factors and the chance of things not working out. Afterward, I thought a lot and decided to go ahead with surgery.
Leading up to the surgery, we took another battery of images: X-rays, CT scans, etc. The next time I met with Dr. Lin, I also met his team including Kara, his wonderful physician assistant. We scheduled the surgery for the next month. I believed in the procedure and the skill of the team, and felt positive. The plan was to perform a spinal fusion surgery to prevent the curve from progressing and relieve pain on the nerves. Screws would help the bone heal together.
The surgery ended up being 14 hours long! When I talked to Dr. Lin afterward, I'd asked why it took so much longer — I'd expected maybe eight hours — and he simply said, "I wanted to make sure we straightened you out." My entire spine was fused from the bottom up to my neck.
I was in the hospital about five days. The Intensive Care Unit was a wonderful facility. The next day after surgery, they were helping me get up and walk around with a walker. We went to the imaging lab, and the team and I were pleased how the procedure had gone. I could already pick up things off the floor, and as I healed, I got about one or two inches taller!
I cannot say enough positive about Dr. Lin, and I have a great deal of respect for OHSU. I got exactly what I hoped would happen out of the surgery. A few months later, I was doing everything I used to do before surgery — with no pain. My friends and family tell me how great I look.
Two years ago, I started having pain shooting down my right leg. Initially, it was diagnosed as sciatica, but I knew it was more than that, so I began trying to find a doctor who believed me when I said something was seriously wrong with my back. I'd been to physical therapy and received six steroid injections. Nothing worked. When I had an MRI, my primary care provider didn't see anything but arthritis. However, I couldn't walk or drive without being in a ton of pain. I am a teacher and this adversely affected my work. I had to take off several terms.
My nephew is a medical student at OHSU and helped me get in touch with the OHSU Spine Center. Everything worked like clockwork there. I didn't have to wait. Everyone was so compassionate. First, I saw Dr. Sibell, who reviewed my MRI, and he referred me to Dr. Lin.
Dr. Lin is one of the best listeners I know! He said, "You're not crazy. You have things going on that are giving you serious pain." I had quite a few bone spurs putting pressure on my nerves, plus narrowing of the area around the nerves. I also had a slipped disc. Kara, Dr. Lin's physician assistant, explained to me that some people can go a long time with this and not have pain, but others need surgery.
We talked about all my options and agreed to do surgery, doing the least invasive procedure first, which was a laminectomy–discectomy to ease the discomfort in my back. I recovered well from this surgery, but it didn't solve the problem. My symptoms continued to worsen. Dr. Lin and I discussed this further, and I decided to have spinal fusion surgery, during which he would take bone from my hip to graft it into a new disc.
This was a very long surgery, about 10 hours. While he was doing the surgery, he also removed many bone spurs and any other defects that could impinge on the nerves. The nurses on the orthopaedic floor took such good care of me, so kind, and they made sure I had no pain. Dr. Lin even came in on his day off and checked on me. I stayed in the hospital about two days after that, and in a few days was moving normally. I started physical therapy six weeks after surgery, and about nine weeks later was ready to resume most of my normal activities.
Since the surgery, I haven't had any pain in my back or legs, other than aches and normal pain associated with returning to my normal routines. I love walking, and now I can walk for hours. I can drive as long as I need to and not feel pain. I have much more energy. I feel like dancing!
I feel very blessed I went to OHSU. I have told anybody, everybody who has orthopaedic pain that they have to go there. I call Dr. Lin and Kara and his entire team "my miracle workers." If I send an email through MyChart, they respond within hours. They are constantly available, kind and compassionate. It is exceptional medical care.
Marin Metz feared she would need a wheelchair the rest of her life after a traumatic bike accident. Instead, thanks to an OHSU Spine Center surgeon and his team, she’s back on her feet and looking forward to walking down the aisle.
Referral: To become a patient, please ask your doctor for a referral.
Questions: For questions or follow-up appointments, call 503-418-9888.
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