Learning that you need spine surgery to correct herniated discs can be frightening enough, but hearing a neurosurgeon say that you need the procedure immediately or run the risk of being wheelchair-bound is terrifying. That is the situation that Richard DeCicco faced last fall. Fortunately, he was in the Emergency Department at Catholic Health's Good Samaritan University Hospital (West Islip, NY).
For several weeks, the active 65-year-old had noticed worsening symptoms: his arms were tingling; he was having trouble holding things in his hands; and, as the days went on, he began to have difficulty walking. Flying from Florida, where he currently resides, back to his former home on Long Island for his grandson Adrian's fourth birthday, Richard required a wheelchair to get off the plane. Richard and his wife, Roseann, went from the airport directly to Good Samaritan, where Borimir Darakchiev, MD, FAANS, FACS, determined that Richard's condition was much more serious than he thought. His symptoms were not coming from a lower back injury, as he had suspected. Instead, the problem was in his upper, or cervical spine.
“He had major spinal cord compression caused by two large herniated cervical discs,” said Dr. Darakchiev. “He was progressively losing strength and would end up in a wheelchair without immediate surgery.”
Under normal circumstances, Richard would have conducted research, asked for recommendations, and sought a second or even third opinion before undergoing such a serious operation. But Dr. Darakchiev made it clear that he didn’t have the luxury of time; the surgery was essential to prevent the possibility of paralysis.
Looking back, Richard considers that urgency a blessing in disguise.
“From the minute I entered the Good Samaritan Emergency Department, I received nothing but superb care,” he said. “That includes the nursing staff, the ER, the people in MRI and radiology. Dr. Darakchiev, to be honest, is truly brilliant. I couldn’t believe I went through this extensive major surgery, and I felt so great.”
Good Samaritan’s investment in its neurosurgical services contributed toward the seamless care he received. Advanced diagnostic capabilities allowed for a swift diagnosis. Richard was admitted as an inpatient on the day he arrived at the hospital and underwent surgery the following day.
Neurosurgeons may use a variety of approaches to perform Richard's surgery, which is called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. A minimally invasive approach was used employing a surgical microscope to view the delicate structures. First, he removed the herniated disks to reduce pressure on the cervical spine. Next, Dr. Darakchiev implanted titanium discs to support the spine. Bone grafting helped hold the discs in place until the spine fully fused.
During the procedure, technicians connected electrodes to Richard’s body to monitor for any nerve irritation. The team also used intraoperative X-ray fluoroscopy to visualize the alignment of the spine and placement of screws during the surgery.
Dr. Darakchiev prefers a minimally invasive approach because he says it results in less blood loss and less surgical trauma. The entire surgery is completed through an inch and a half incision in the front of the neck.
Richard spent just two days recovering in Good Samaritan’s Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit, where he was up and walking with the assistance of physical therapists. In a short time, all of his symptoms disappeared. He regained full sensation in his hands, arms, legs and feet. Within a few months, he had completely recovered and was able to return to his active lifestyle, playing golf and pickleball and enjoying time with his wife, their grown children and eight grandchildren.
“It is the luck of the draw when you go into an emergency room,” Richard observed. “I was very lucky to wind up in Good Sam, with Dr. Darakchiev, and to be here today, normal.”
Call 631-376-4444 for more information on Good Samaritan University Hospital's neurosurgical services.