Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

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Spine

Patient Profile: Diane

Spinal Fusion Eliminates Back Pain, Diane Kelley

“Whenever I had a physical while I was growing up, the doctor would always say ‘Did you know you have scoliosis?'” recalls Diane Kelley. “I knew, and it didn’t bother me a bit.”

Kelley led a very active life in spite of the curvature in her spine, raising four children with her husband, Kaye, and enjoying a host of outdoor activities, including skiing, traveling and fly fishing. Then, about 10 years ago when Kelley was in her early 60s, she became very aware of lower back pain.

“I had five small grandsons, and because of the pain in my back, it became very difficult to pick them up and play with them,” she recalled. “Kaye and I also liked to travel in our motor home, but as my back got worse, with every little bump in the road I would feel this horrible pain.”

When the pain no longer could be controlled by over-the-counter medications, Kelley agreed to see a doctor. An examination by Dr. Serena Hu, an orthopedic surgeon at UCSF Medical Center, showed that besides scoliosis, Kelley had degenerative spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that results in pressure on the enclosed nerves. Hu ordered an MRI that confirmed the diagnosis, then recommended a surgical procedure called spinal fusion to stabilize Kelley’s spine and eliminate the pressure that was causing so much pain.

Hu performed two surgeries five days apart, one to fuse the front or anterior of Kelley’s lower spine and one to fuse the back or posterior spine. The two surgeries were necessary, says Hu, to ensure that the fusion would heal because of the extent of the spine that needed to be fused.

“The upshot of it is that I have no pain. It’s really a miracle!” Kelley exclaimed. “Now I can sit for a long time and play with the kids, all without any pain.”

Kelley’s normal activity program includes walking four or more times per week, usually with her husband, along the paths and streets of their neighborhood. Fly fishing, too, Kelley says, is enjoyable again; it’s an activity that’s much more fun without the pain in her back.

Regaining her capacity for sitting also enables Kelley to pursue other favorite things — playing duplicate bridge, doing needlepoint and traveling. The greatest joy, though, comes from being able to play with her grandchildren again, thanks to the spinal fusion surgery. At 72 years old and the proud grandmother of 11, ranging in age from 2 to 17, she can almost keep up with those active youngsters!