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Thoracotomy for thoracic disc repair - feedback needed please

Ellie.OliverEEllie.Oliver Posts: 3
edited 06/11/2012 - 9:01 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery

I am an active, 46 y/o female and into hiking, climbing, mountaineering, kayaking, mtn biking, snowboarding, etc. I have 5 herniated discs in the thoracic area of my spine and 2 in my neck after getting plowed into by a drunk driver on my way to the gym at 6am on a Saturday morning. The neck herniations are not problematic currently.

Thoracic discs T6/7 and T7/8 are in contact with my spinal cord and causing cord signal interruption, and discs T8/9, T9/10, T10/11 are all deforming the spinal cord significantly. I currently have intermintent numbness of my left foot and a pulsating electrical buzzing in my right leg. I am also beginning to experience some degradation of urinary functions as well from the spinal cord damage. Over the past 2 months I have seen 5 neurosurgeons and 1 orthopedic surgeon and have decided to work with EDITED in Phoenix. My pain although constant, is manageable.

I had hoped to have endoscopic spine surgery with Dr. EDITED to fix, fuse and brace these discs, but due to the sheer number of discs involved and the position of the herniations, an open thoracotomy is strongly recommended instead.

I am supposed to have the thoracotomy on April 5th. I am really concerned about the post-surgery quality of life issues that my research shows many, many people have had. Are there any other members out there that have had successful, positive outcomes after a thoracotomy? I considered doing nothing at all, but all 6 surgeons said I will undoubtedly progress to eventual paralysis, if I don't self-paralyze from a sudden impact or sharp movement before then.

I've even asked the surgeon to consider 2 endoscopic surgeries, but I have been told that is problematic due to the location of the other lower three discs. I am trying to decide whether I should do the thoracotomy or if I should just have the top two discs that are currently touching the spinal cord fixed endoscopically do nothing to the other three, and take my chances. I am being advised not to do so.

I have read about post-thoracotomy patients who developed post chronic pain syndrome were miserable and were on heavy meds like morphine and oxycontin 5 years post surgery. Many of these patients also had very limited mobility in the incision side of the body as well as diaphragm and pulmonary issues for years after. I am almost wondering if being paralyzed is better or worse than living a life of chronic pain and other complications from the surgery itself.

I also had bilateral breast cancer at 29. I have had 14 surgeries related to the double mastectomies and reconstructive procedures including skin grafts, and alloderm tissue grafts. I've never hesitated or batted an eye at going through any of those surgeries, but this one has me a spooked.

Any feedback on the procedure, facility or physician, or stories of your personal experience with a thoracotomy and recovery would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks much,

Post edited to remove name of medical professional and or facility. by Authority Member Liz



  • :H

    I haven't had thoracic surgery, but will be interested to read any replies that you get.

    I wanted to welcome you to Spine Health.
    Thoracic spine surgery is quite rare and so there are not many members that have had surgery at this level.

    Spinal surgeons that will do thoracic surgery are not that easy to find. Can you get a second opinion?

    I have some thoracic issues, which like you, are causing symptoms, but the pain is manageable. I get a tightening band around my chest and the muscles spasm if I try to twist or sometimes when I lift my arms.

    I get the same pulsating buzzing in my right leg, that feels like I have a mobile phone on vibrate inside my leg! My neurosurgeon thinks it is coming from the compression of the cord in my neck.

    Could your surgeon put you in touch with some of his previous patients who have had this surgery?
    April 5th is not long away. Could you postpone the surgery to give yourself more time to gather more information and opinions about this, or at least prepare mentally for this surgery?

    It could be that your surgeon feels that your surgery needs to be done very soon. How many levels is he proposing to work on?

    I will follow your story with interest, and wish you well and hope that you will get some information that will reassure you.

  • Hi there,

    Thank you for you post. I have had opinions from 2 ortho surgeons and 5 neurosurgeons. I sent my films to 5 of the top neurosurgery centers in the US.

    I originally had the surgery scheduled for March 6th with another neurosurgeon in Denver, but canceled it when I was given the opportunity to be seen at a world-renowned Center of Excellence in Brain and Spine surgery in Phoenix. Since doing so, I have decided to go with the neurosurgeon in Phx.

    This neurosurgeon was one of the pioneers in thoracic disc repair using a minimally invasive approach. He has done over 250 thoracic discectomies. Most of the other surgeons I spoke to had only seen and/or operated on a few thoracic disc repairs in their entire career. None had ever done 5. If anyone is a proponent for the endoscopic approach it is the guy in Phx. But, he said my case complicated and with herniations at so many levels, it is not safe to do endoscopically.

    A few other NS have said they can do it endoscopically, but they have only done a few in their career and none of them have dealt with more than 2 discs so I question their experience with a case like mine.

    The surgical plan is to remove all 5 herniated discs (they are all in a row), fuse and reinforces with plates, rods and screws.

    The worst thing is that the accident was in April of 2011. My local orthopedic surgeon failed to look at my MRIs and was going solely on what his PA reported to him The PA misread the MRIs completely. My spine has been in this condition for 9 months, in which I was doing PT and trying to get back to the gym. I am lucky I didn't do more damage beyond what I have during the past 9 months.

    My condition is deteriorating and I do need surgery soon.
  • It does sound like you have got plenty of other opinions and that this surgery is necessary.

    Have you looked at the threads on preparing for surgery and useful items?
    I suggest before surgery that you do things like get your hair cut, pedicure, visit the dentist, optician etc. It will be quite a while before you will be able to do things like that after surgery.

    Get your house all set up for your recovery, with frequently used items at an easily accessible level. Will you have someone to help you when you go home?

    It sounds like you have had more than your share of health issues. I hope that you will have an amazing recovery to make up for it.
    Do stay around here and ask any questions that you may have. There was a young lady called Angela who had thoracic surgery. It is a tough one to recover from but it sounds like you will need to have it.

  • Thank you for your post Jellyhall. I just got my hair cut yesterday and am going in for a pedi tomorrow. Great minds think alike! lol I still need to move a few things around and to get my house in order for post-op. We are leaving Sunday - it is a 11 hour drive each way which is going to be brutal. I have been buried trying to catch up on client work since I will be gone so long. I have definitely had some health issue but consider myself very healthy. Most have been isolated. The tough part is that my daughter Kaitlyn is in her 32 month of chemotherapy for Systemic Lupus. We really did not need this accident with the drunk driver, but it could have been worse. I thank my lucky stars I am here still.

    Like you I too also have herniations at 2 levels in my cervical spine deforming the spinal canal. They are not bothering me much and this surgery will be Tspine specific. Thanks again and I will think good thoughts for you to continue to heal and do well.

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