Amy Smith

Editor's Note: Amy Smith volunteered to submit her story to us because she was interested in letting potential patients know about her successful treatment with spine surgeon Dr. Daniel Gelb.

Kyphosis patient's life is "better than it's ever been"

Amy Smith is "eternally grateful" to Dr. Gelb after successful spinal surgery

Photo of Amy Smith and her husband Glenn

As long as I can remember, I was unable to stand or sit up completely straight. Over the years, my posture seemed to get worse and people around me would tell me to stand up straight or to stop slouching. They couldn't understand that I was physically unable to do so. It got to the point where I was looking down at the ground while I was walking and would often run into people or things because I couldn't see them in front of me.

In February 2004, I began to have persistent back pain between my shoulder blades and increased breathing difficulties at the age of 23. There didn't seem to be any particular event that caused this pain. After a few weeks of taking anti-inflammatory medicines over the counter, I saw my physician. I was x-rayed and diagnosed with kyphosis, a spinal deformity which causes my thoracic spine to curve forward excessively. He referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who confirmed my diagnosis, but was unable to do anything except give me narcotics to help control my pain.

He informed me that my only hope for relieving the pain was to have a spinal surgeon correct the deformity through surgery. My pain became increasingly debilitating to the point where I had to take time off from work and school. I sought out a few spinal surgeons who also agreed with the kyphosis diagnosis, but refused to perform the surgery. Three months after my back pain initially started, I became very discouraged at the thought of living the rest of my life in chronic pain

In May 2004, I researched the University of Maryland's Web site for a spinal surgeon who specialized in spinal deformities. I decided to make an appointment with Dr. Daniel Gelb [co-director of the University of Maryland Spine Program] based on the information provided on the Web site. Later that month, I had my first appointment with Dr. Gelb.

Upon first impression, he was very compassionate, professional, and knowledgeable. He made sure to answer all of my questions in a manner that I understood. He also didn't immediately discuss surgery. He wanted to explore non-surgical methods to control my pain first. I walked away from my first appointment with Dr. Gelb overjoyed because I had finally found a doctor to help me when others had turned me away in what felt like my greatest time of medical need.

Over the next few months I had numerous appointments with Dr. Gelb. The non-surgical methods to control my pain weren't successful and with Dr. Gelb's expertise, I decided it was clearly time to have the surgery. He thoroughly explained the procedure to me, including the risks and expectations during recovery. Dr. Gelb made me feel very comfortable about the surgery and I felt extremely confident in his abilities.

Pre-operative x-ray of Amy's spine Post-operative x-ray of Amy's spine
Amy's pre-operative (left) and post-operative (right) x-rays, which demonstrate the surgical correction of hyperkyphosis.

After my eight hour surgery was complete, I was hospitalized for nine days. During this time, Dr. Gelb visited me and monitored my progress every day. He also explained what my limitations would be during recovery. The moment I knew the surgery was worthwhile was the first time I got out of bed and walked past the mirror in the bathroom of my hospital room. For the first time since I could remember, I saw myself standing up perfectly straight.

I am a year post-op, and my quality of life is better than it has ever been. I don't feel restricted in any of my daily activities, my breathing has drastically improved, and I don't experience any pain on a daily basis. I am eternally grateful for Dr. Gelb's ability to give me the opportunity to experience what most of us take for granted everyday. Without a doubt, I would go through the procedure all over again with Dr. Gelb if necessary.

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