About a decade ago I sustained an injury while on vacation in Ocean City, NJ. I was locking up the kids bikes under the house and when I stood up I hit the main crossbeam supporting the house. This caused a neck compression. Several weeks later the increased tingling down my right arm into my hand became so bad I sought medical attention.
The MRI revealed two herniated discs – but not serious enough to require surgery. A brief round of anti-inflammatory meds - followed by therapy - alleviated 90% of the symptoms, and that was that.
Fast forward 10 years. In August of 2012 I dove into our pool. I felt a compression pain in my neck, and the tingling down my right arm and hand began again. My doctor sent me to a specialist in suburban Philadelphia. During the study, the doctor did not like the result and excused himself. Five minutes later he returned and said, “You have an appointment tomorrow at 2 pm with our surgeon in Willow Grove.
At that appointment I saw on the computer screen the extent of the problem. The surgeon showed me how the two herniated discs were pressing back into my spinal cord. He told me that it was going to require bone fusion surgery because I was at risk for paralysis. He told me (and this is an important part of the story) that the surgery wasn’t needed right away and that we could wait until the following fall if it fit my schedule. He then suggested that I get a second opinion and recommended Dr. Alexander Vaccaro at The Rothman Institute.
My wife and I arrived at The Rothman Institute and were immediately impressed with the beautiful waiting room and the incredible efficiency of the staff and check-in procedure(s). I need to say that every person – EVERY person – that we have met along the way at Rothman treated my wife and me with courtesy and personal respect. I never felt like a number.
We first met with Dr. Vaccaro’s assistant who reviewed a number of general things with me. Then, Dr. Vaccaro came into the exam room. His conclusion was the same as the surgeon in Willow Grove – EXCEPT for one important point. He turned to me and said, “John, you can’t wait until the Fall. Stay flexible because if I can get you moved up I’m going to do so. “
I asked him what limitations I would have in my life after recovery. He said, “Virtually none.” My wife and I were 100% confident in his ability to do this surgery. Before we left the office we had a surgery date scheduled and the pre-op instructions.
About two weeks later I received a phone call asking if I could move my surgery up about 10 days because of a cancellation by another patient. Of course, we took the new date.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013. We arrived at the hospital early in the morning to check-in. Once again, the entire staff treated us as people with respect and courtesy. Dr. Vaccaro and his team came to check-in with me. I shared with him that a lot of people who knew me were praying for him today. He was a little surprised and asked why they were praying for him – and not me? I said something to the effect that I all have to do is lie on a table, but you are the surgeon. God needs to guide your hands today – and that’s what I’ve asked people to pray for. I was then taken to the pre-op room – and that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in my room.
As I opened my eyes I saw my wife and three daughters. They all started to talk at once. I said, “Wait!” And then I lifted up both of my arms and wiggled my fingers and said, “Thank you, Lord!”
A while later one of Dr. Vaccaro’s assistant came in to describe the surgery. He said that all went well.
Dr. Vaccaro had told me prior to the surgery that if all went well I could go home after one night in the hospital. By 7 am the next morning I was out of bed, sitting in a chair, and waiting for his morning visit. I told him I was ready to go home. He smiled and told me to slow down a bit and reviewed some of the steps that still needed to happen that day. “If all goes well today”, he said, “I’ll have you home for dinner.” The day went well and I was home for dinner.
There are things about this surgery that I was not prepared for, but each day things got better. Two and half weeks after the surgery I returned to work. A few days later I had my first follow-up at Rothman. The incision looked great, and the staff were surprised that I had returned to work already.
At the 8 week mark I met again with Dr. Vaccaro. He was very pleased with the progress. The x-rays showed that the bone fusion had completely grafted and healed. He was very pleased and released me with only minor activity restrictions.
For the most part, I don’t have any real sense of loss on a daily basis. I have no pain in my neck – and am not even aware of what the x-rays show as the brackets and screws inside my neck. The tingling in my arm is virtually gone, though some residual tingling occurs in my right thumb.
In closing, I want to again thank Dr. Vaccaro, his assistants, the entire Rothman Team, and all the people at Jefferson. Their professionalism, always with a personal touch, gave us confidence and comfort that we were at the right place. I’ve recommended Dr. Vaccaro and Rothman Institute to many people since my surgery – and will continue to do so.