About two years ago in October, I had a freak accident that resulted in a vertebral compression fracture (VCF). That’s when part of a backbone, or vertebra, collapses and gets compressed. If that sounds painful, it is!
At the time, my dog, Sauza, was old and sick. She woke up in the middle of the night, and I grabbed her and ran down the hall to take her outside. There was some water spilled on the hardwood floor, and when I hit it, I went flying up in the air and landed on my back. I was in instant pain.
I immediately knew I had done something really bad. The pain was so intense; on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 10+. I screamed for my husband, who had to come help me and get me back to bed.
The next morning he took me to the emergency room. I couldn’t walk, so he had to help me to the car, and at the hospital I was put in a wheelchair. That’s how bad the pain was.
Before my accident I was an incredibly active 71-year-old grandmother. I had a trainer who worked out with me for an hour twice a week. I walked on the treadmill, lifted weights and did sit-ups. I also spent a lot of time with my girlfriends, going shopping and to lunch. And my husband and I traveled a great deal. Our favorite destination was Destin, Florida, with its silvery sand beach.
To be honest, I have a lot of energy and don’t like to sit still, so not being able to move and being wheeled into the hospital was really upsetting. At that point, I had no idea what was wrong with me, and I was worried.
Once in the hospital, the doctors ran a battery of tests on me. That’s when they explained that I had a VCF. They recommended I have a procedure called balloon kyphoplasty and wanted to admit me right away.
I had never heard of the procedure, but it was explained to me that balloons are used to create space inside the vertebra, and then a cement-like substance is injected into the damaged vertebra to strengthen it.
It sounded simple enough, but I didn’t want someone I didn’t know performing the procedure, so I decided to get a second opinion from an orthopedist. I saw him a week later, and he wanted to put me into a back brace. That didn’t sound appealing. How was I going to get back to my workouts and travels with a back brace? I decided I wanted a third opinion.
I went to an orthopedic surgeon who had been recommended by members of my family but had been out of town when I had my accident. He told me the only relief I was going to get would be from the balloon kyphoplasty, and he explained the procedure thoroughly. By this time, nearly two months had passed since my accident, and I was miserable. I spent most of my time in bed in pain, and I was desperate to get back to my life. I trusted the doctor, so at that point I had no hesitation about going ahead with the procedure.
Because I’m in my early 70s, they had to run some tests, but once I cleared them, we scheduled the surgery for the first week of December. It was a simple outpatient procedure that only took about an hour. I was put to sleep and woke up with four stitches and a little soreness from the incision — but no back pain. I went home early that evening.
I felt immediate relief. In fact, I had a Christmas party two days after the procedure! I had planned the party before the surgery, and my girlfriends said I’d never be able to host a party so soon. I told them, “Let me see.” And I was able to do it.
Within weeks I was back to my routine. I started working out again with my trainer, and my husband and I took a trip to Atlanta. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I’d still be going to my trainer.
There are many things we can’t do right now because of the pandemic, and I certainly wouldn’t choose to have most elective surgeries. But if I got another compression fracture, I wouldn’t hesitate to have another balloon kyphoplasty — even during COVID. I was in such intense, horrible pain, and it was such a simple procedure. I went in in the morning, was home that evening, and gave a party two days later.
You can’t beat that.
This procedure is not for everyone. A prescription is required. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of balloon kyphoplasty and whether it’s right for you.
This resource was created with support from Medtronic.