Getting back to normal after spinal surgery: Ruth’s story

When consultant spinal surgeon Mr Robert Lee first glanced at the MRI scan of retired music teacher Ruth’s lumbar spine, he did a double take. He thought there must have been a mix up with the imaging. Ruth and her husband Roger were both patients of Mr Lee, and both their scans showed signs of the same degenerative condition in exactly the same places in the back.

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We’re an unusual couple in that respect,” jokes 79-year-old Ruth.

The Leicester-based couple first met Mr Lee when Roger needed surgery for his spinal stenosis, lumbar disc issues and degenerative scoliosis. “Being a medic himself, my husband went to great lengths to find the very best surgeon for his back, and the name he heard consistently was Mr Robert Lee...

We were both delighted with the speed of Roger’s recovery after quite a long and complex procedure,” says Ruth.“So when I started to experience pain and discomfort a few years later, Mr Lee was our first choice.

Being diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition

Unbeknown to Ruth, the discomfort was related to the same degenerative spine condition that Roger had suffered from.

I had this really uncomfortable heaviness in my legs. Sitting, standing and lying down were all hard,” she says. “I could never get comfortable in bed or on the sofa. I’d even think twice about walking to the end of the garden...

By her own admission, Ruth had always been fit and well and never had any health issues. She did pilates, walked regularly and, for many years, had driven her much-loved classic Saab 96 without power steering. But the discomfort and sciatica from the nerve impingement was now interrupting both her sleep, and her enjoyment of life.

Ruth needed a specialist procedure called ‘oblique lumbar interbody fusion’ (OLIF) to correct the scoliosis and fuse three lumbar vertebrae with titanium cages, screws and rods.

Mr Lee is the reason I had the operation,” says Ruth. “When I realised it wasn’t going to get better on its own, I knew I’d have to bite the bullet. I’d seen how well Roger had recovered – going to the gym and practising martial arts with no problems, and it helped me take the plunge.”

Having spinal surgery

Mr Lee performed the two stage operation at HCA UK’s The Wellington Hospital. During the first part of the operation, he inserted titanium cages between Ruth’s lumbar vertebrae to keep them apart. He then fixed them in position a week later. Ruth was in The Wellington Hospital for two weeks, with an overnight stay in the unit’s advanced intensive care unit.

I can't compliment Mr. Lee enough”, she says. “A totally reliable and professional person. If he said ‘I'll come and see you at 7 in the morning’, you could be quite sure he would come at 7, just like he said. It was all so reassuring. The nurses were also outstanding.

Renowned for his minimally invasive, computer navigated approach, Mr Lee specialises in treating the more complex spinal conditions, which often includes corrective revision surgery. His technique, which carefully separates the muscle rather than cutting it, causes less disruption to the soft tissue, resulting in less blood loss and a faster, smoother recovery process. For older patients, this is particularly valuable.

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Recovery after surgery

Two months after surgery, Ruth is doing really well – much better than she expected.

At my six-week post-op visit, Mr. Lee was really pleased with my recovery. He took an X-ray of my back and saw the surgery went exactly as he'd hoped. He said I was going from strength to strength, my movements are coming on nicely and, by our six-month appointment I should be completely back to normal. I felt pretty euphoric after hearing that.

Ruth is delighted that the pressure causing the discomfort on her legs has now lifted. She says having the operation has really helped her state of mind as she can now go back to living a normal life.

I can already sit at the piano for a few minutes at a time and play – and I feel confident that everything will be ship shape by the time I see Mr Lee again in a few months.” She is already looking forward to getting back in the Saab and is very excited about flying to the Caribbean for her and Roger’s first holiday in three years.

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.