Pat Bifano, age 75, resident of Norwalk, Connecticut, enjoys spending time with her large family, comprising her husband Al of 56 years, four children, 12 grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. She also loves to work part time. Pat’s activities literally came to a standstill when she began experiencing pain so intense that she could not sit down.
(Image credit: Norwalk Hospital)
Pat has been dealing with chronic back pain for the past three decades. However, this time was different. Each time Pat sat down, there was a shooting pain down her right leg. Finally, she had to give up driving and working. She ate standing up. She could no longer be as active as she wanted to be with her family.
“I was in horrific pain when I was sitting—I’ve never been in so much pain,” said Pat.
Pat took cortisone injections, medications, and even an epidural, but there was no relief. So for help, she went to Robert Brady, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist at Norwalk Hospital.
Finding the Right Treatment
Pat had an MRI that established her diagnosis. There was a foraminal disc herniation at the L5-S1 segment of the spine. The herniated disc was pressing on a nerve, which was the reason behind the severe pain down her right leg.
A herniated disc is a frequently occurring injury. There are several nerves that go down the spine, and when one of the rubbery discs that sits between the vertebrae goes out of place, it can put pressure on a nerve and result in numbness, severe pain, and weakness in the legs or arms.
Norwalk Hospital owns a new robotic-guidance and navigation system that allows specially-trained surgeons to conduct spinal fusion surgery less invasively and with even better accuracy and precision. There are many advantages for patients going through minimally invasive robotic spinal fusion surgery versus traditional surgery.
With the robotic technology, surgery time is shorter as the surgeon can access the spine through a single side without shifting the patient. Blood loss is less. Less scarring as the incisions are smaller. There is minimal radiation exposure during surgery because only a single CT scan is necessary, at most, to show the surgeon where to position the pedicle screws (screws used in spinal fusion).
The new robotic-guidance and navigation system for spinal fusion surgery is available at Norwalk Hospital because we want our spine patients to have access to the most advanced treatment options. The spine is a very small, delicate area with important nerves, so the precision we can achieve by using the robotic technology is a huge advancement in spinal fusion surgery. This is among additional benefits for patients including shorter hospital stay and faster recovery compared to traditional spinal fusion.
Robert Brady, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon and Spine Expert, Norwalk Hospital
Dr. Brady suggested robotic spinal fusion surgery for Pat. He explained that he would use the robotic technology to do a minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion to ease the pressure on the nerve and then make the spine stable.
“I was excited to have such a cutting edge option available to me. Even though the robotic technology was new, I wasn’t nervous because Dr. Brady explained the surgery to me so I really knew what he was going to do,” said Pat.
A Quick Recovery
The first thing Pat noted when she became conscious after robotic spinal fusion surgery at Norwalk Hospital was that there was no pain in her leg. Plus, soon after surgery, she could walk down the hall without needing a walker.
After Pat went home, she followed all of Dr. Brady’s advice to help accelerate her recovery. For six weeks, she did not lift any objects heavier than 20 pounds, and did not bend or twist her back. Pat also walked around the house as much as she could and went for physical therapy.
After six weeks from the date of surgery, Pat’s life was back on track. She was able to sit and drive. She even returned to work.
“I didn’t think I would get better that quickly, but I did,” said Pat. “I’m so thankful to Norwalk Hospital; I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. Everyone was great—the medical assistants, nurses, PAs—I didn’t want for anything. And Dr. Brady is an awesome, skilled surgeon.”
Pat is particularly happy to be free of the leg pain because she and Al are planning to relocate, so she is thrilled to finally be able to get set for the move.
About Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery at Norwalk Hospital
Norwalk Hospital is dedicated to offering innovative care to its patients. The robotic-guidance and navigation system for spinal fusion surgery is one component to all of the advanced minimally invasive methods and technology available to Norwalk Hospital patients. Other than Dr. Brady, neurosurgeons Scott Sanderson, MD and Joshua Marcus, MD are also specially trained to conduct robotic spinal fusion surgery.