The day before her wedding, 27-year-old Heidi was in an accident that would change the course of her life dramatically.
Thankfully, Heidi was able to go to her own wedding. But the accident caused pain in her lower back and numbness down her left leg.
Watch: Lumbar Herniated Disc Video
Increasing pain and a pregnancy
Within a week, Heidi's pain had progressed and she went to her doctor, who prescribed anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, and later physical therapy. These therapies worked a little, but they just took the edge off her pain and kept her mobile.
Two months later, Heidi learned she was pregnant. Her immediate concern was for her unborn child, so she abruptly discontinued the pain medications. Her physical therapist also recommended that she discontinue treatment, as the exercises that were helping her were not safe for the baby.
Heidi’s pain increased dramatically and she soon found it difficult to walk. She had to spend all of her time in bed. Unable to get out of bed, she could no longer go to work or perform simple tasks. This is not the way that she had intended her married life to start off.
Facing an impossible choice
Because she was in so much pain and disability early on her pregnancy, her obstetrician suggested she consider terminating the pregnancy. This was a devastating prospect to Heidi. But as she found herself becoming more and more disabled, she wondered how she would ever be able to carry the pregnancy to term. She and her husband contacted several orthopedic spine surgeons, but no one would agree to perform the surgery she needed because it involved risks to her unborn child.
Heidi was feeling desperate and she began to think her obstetrician was right, that she would not be able to carry the pregnancy to full term. Lying in bed one morning, she opened the Planned Parenthood website on her laptop to consider having an abortion. And right at that moment her cell phone rang. It was her husband calling to tell her that he had found a surgeon who would meet with her and treat her if he could, even though she was pregnant.
Dr. Alexander Vaccaro offers hope
Looking back, Heidi can’t believe the coincidence of the timing, and she considers it a “God moment.”
The surgeon who agreed to see her was Alexander Vaccaro, MD, and he soon diagnosed her with a lumbar herniated disc. Dr. Vaccaro suggested Heidi have a microdiscectomy, but he advised that she wait until she was at 18 weeks in her pregnancy, as this would be the safest period for the baby to undergo the surgery and the required X-rays.
Watch: Lumbar Microdiscectomy Surgery Video
After the surgery while Heidi was still in recovery, Dr. Vaccaro spoke to her husband and reported that he had taken care of the herniated disc. He explained that he removed the portion of the damaged disc that was impinging on Heidi's nerve, causing her pain and numbness. However, the doctor cautioned that Heidi would likely have to come back in the future for another surgery.
When Heidi woke up after the surgery, the first thing that she noticed was that the pain and numbness in her leg was gone. Even better, the baby was fine!
Just days after the surgery, Heidi was up and walking. She was even able to go back to work. Less than 5 months later, she delivered a healthy baby boy and she named him after her surgeon: Alexander.
Alex is now 8 years old, and a big brother to his younger sibling, Aiden. Alex is an incredibly sweet and intelligent boy, and Heidi can’t imagine life without him. Heidi credits Dr. Vaccaro for giving her hope at her darkest moment.
Alex meets Dr. Vaccaro
It turned out that Dr. Vaccaro was right and eventually Heidi did need to consider having another surgery. So she made an appointment for a surgical consult with Dr. Vaccaro. And she brought Alex to the appointment.
Heidi introduced Dr. Vaccaro to her son, and then shared all the details of what had happened before her surgery—about the timing of the phone call she received and how Alex almost wasn't born. Dr. Vaccaro was so touched he invited everyone in his practice to listen to this story.
At the end of the appointment, Alex told Dr. Vaccaro, “Someday I want to be just like you.”
On the car ride home, Alex was excited. He told his mom, “It’s not every day that you get to meet the person you’re named after.” In Alex’s eyes, Dr. Vaccaro is his hero.