Terrill Brewer undergoing aqua therapy.

Patient’s Quality of Life is 100% Better

Terrill Brewer just can’t believe how much her life has been transformed. Suffering with back pain she says was 10 on a scale of 10, she was bedridden for months due to compression fractures in her spine. In January, she underwent an Interventional Radiology procedure called kyphoplasty at NorthBay Health, and by mid-February, not only was she out of bed and walking, but also participating in aqua therapy.

“Never in a million years would I have believed I’d be doing that,” the 78-year-old Fairfield resident said, when describing how much her life has changed since having the surgery. “My quality of life is 100% better.”

Terrill was living in Oroville when she was diagnosed with osteoporosis about six years ago. Three years later, while sitting on the floor playing with her newborn grandbaby, she twisted to stand up. “I heard a loud pop and felt immediate excruciating pain,” she recalled.

As time went on, the pain in her back became so severe it was seriously restricting her movements and causing frequent visits to the hospital, according to her daughter, Cindy Brewer. About a year and a half ago, Cindy moved her mother into her Fairfield home, and Terrill came under the care of NorthBay Health’s Ali Hassani, M.D., internal medicine physician at NorthBay Center for Primary Care – Vacaville.

“He immediately referred my mom to specialists within NorthBay, to care for her osteoporosis, her COPD, her foot pain and her back pain,” Cindy explained.

Patrick Maloney, M.D., neurosurgeon for NorthBay, ordered an MRI, which revealed two compression fractures in the spine.

“My mother’s pain was so bad, she wasn’t able to get out of bed without help,” Cindy recalled. “I’d have to help her slowly slide out of bed just to get to the bedside commode. She couldn’t even lift up a cup of coffee.”

Christopher Lee, M.D., interventional radiologist at NorthBay Health who performs the Kyphoplasty procedure.Dr. Maloney felt Terrill may be a good candidate for kyphoplasty, and referred her to Christopher Lee, M.D., interventional radiologist at NorthBay who is specially trained in the procedure.

Kyphoplasty is designed to stop the pain caused by a spinal fracture, to stabilize the bone, and to restore some or all of the lost vertebral body height due to compression fractures most commonly caused by a fall or weakened bones due to osteoporosis, Dr. Lee explained.

During this surgery, usually performed in a catheterization lab, a small incision is made in the back. The Interventional Radiologist places a narrow needle cannula (tube) in the incision and, using fluoroscopy to guide it to the fractured area, the surgeon then inserts a special balloon through the tube and into the vertebrae. The balloon is then gently and carefully inflated, and as it inflates it elevates the fracture, returning the pieces to a more normal position. It also compacts the soft inner bone to create a cavity inside the vertebrae. The balloon is removed and the doctor uses specially designed instruments to fill the cavity with a cement-like material that hardens quickly, stabilizing the bone.

On the day of the surgery, Cindy was nervous, but Terrill was not. “I said, take me in, I am so ready. Four hours later, after the ‘la-la’ juice wore off, I told Cindy I didn’t have any more pain. She said, ‘you’re kidding!’”

“Younger patients may bounce back more quickly following trauma to the back, but for older patients a minor fall can cause so many problems,” Dr. Lee said. “Pain keeps them in bed, where their muscles get weaker and breathing is affected. It’s hard for them to get back to base level. This surgery is a game-changing procedure for those who have been suffering with back pain.”

Terrill couldn’t agree more. “I’m feeling so much better, it’s had a domino effect on my quality of life. I’m able to sit up. I am drawing and writing again. And, there’s the aqua therapy.”

“She’s walking against the water current, building up her muscles again,” Cindy explained. “This is not only good for her muscles in her back and legs, but it helps her heart and lungs, as well. These are things she could not do before the procedure. She was going downhill quick. Now we all have hope for a real recovery for her. I’m so grateful to Dr. Lee and her other physicians who are willing to do this kind of surgery on the elderly. The stronger she gets, more her other doctors are willing to do different procedures that my mom needs, such as one that involves harvesting a vein in her leg to create a bypass. Now her heart doctor is going to do this for her, whereas he was reluctant before.”

“Hey, I’m a tough old broad,” Terrill joked.

To make an appointment with NorthBay Health Neuroscience & Spine, ask your primary physician for a referral.