Disc Replacement Surgery Allows Resurgens Orthopaedics Patient to Start a Family

After a Decade of Chronic Pain, Laura Alvis Now Lifts and Carries Her Daughter with Ease

Starting a family was not an option for 32-year-old Resurgens Orthopaedics Spine Center patient Laura Alvis. Pain from degenerative disc disease prevented her from even considering pregnancy.

However, after her January 2007 disc replacement surgery at Resurgens Orthopaedics, Mrs. Alvis gave birth to a daughter in July 2008, and both baby Sarah and mother are doing fine.

"I never had a problem with my back during my pregnancy," Mrs. Alvis said. "The whole pregnancy and delivery went very well, but I couldn't have done it without first having the surgery."

Mrs. Alvis started having back pain at age 15, and was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease at age 21. Following nursing school in Chicago, she moved to Atlanta for post-graduate nursing training and started her career here. By her late 20s, her back pain had increased, and she began looking for a specialist.

Throughout the time she was dating her husband, Scott, Mrs. Alvis said she was often in so much pain he had to help her go up and down stairs and get into and out of the car. Tears came to her eyes as she recounted how kind Scott was to her, and how much they wanted a family after their wedding in 2005.

"As a nurse, I probably did more research to find a doctor than a lot of people would," Mrs. Alvis recalled. Having already had a good experience with minor wrist surgery at the Resurgens Orthopaedics Lawrenceville location, she looked for a specialist in the practice to treat her back.

Because she wanted to start with non-surgical treatment, Mrs. Alvis selected Dr. Reuben Sloan at the Resurgens Orthopaedics St. Joseph location.

"It was great. I could go to one building, see the doctor, get my X-rays, have an MRI, go to physical therapy... it was all right there," she said. Throughout her treatment, both pre- and post-operative, Mrs. Alvis worked with physical therapist Doug Sturgess at the same location.

The non-surgical treatment helped for a while. Over time, however, the pain became more severe, and Dr. Sloan referred her to Resurgens Orthopaedics spine surgeon Dr. Paul Jeffords to discuss her surgical options.

Dr. Jeffords, whose specialties include minimally invasive spine surgery and artificial disc replacement, found that Mrs. Alvis's pain was from a severely degenerated disc at the L5-S1 level, but that all of her other discs appeared normal.

Since many women experience low back pain during and immediately after pregnancy, Dr. Jeffords understood why Mrs. Alvis felt she was unable to have a baby. "In Laura's case, she was experiencing debilitating back pain even without the added stress of carrying a baby. I think for her, the thought of having to suffer through even more pain during a pregnancy was too much for her to handle."

Dr. Jeffords explained that in the past, the only surgical option for a painful degenerative disc was to remove the disc and fuse the two adjacent bones together. While this procedure works very well for many patients, new devices that actually replace the disc allow surgeons to preserve the motion of the spine, leading to faster recovery, better function, and hopefully lower rates of re-operation for degeneration of the other discs.

Dr. Jeffords added that Mrs. Alvis was the first patient in Georgia to receive a ProDisc artificial disc made by a company called Synthes. He said the device has been used in Europe since 1991 and was the second lumbar artificial disc replacement to be approved by the FDA for use in the U.S.

A major advantage of the disc replacement over the fusion surgery, Dr. Jeffords said, is that patients can return to normal motion relatively quickly after the operation. Dr. Jeffords is part of the Synthes ProDisc faculty, and he trains other surgeons throughout the country on the indications for artificial disc replacement and the technique for implanting the device.

After her surgery, Mrs. Alvis was able to return to work as a nurse in eight weeks, and within eight months she felt strong enough to try to start a family.

"Most patients are out of the hospital in one or two days, and physical therapy for stretching and strengthening begins six weeks after surgery," Dr. Jeffords said. "We typically remove all activity restrictions at three months and allow patients to return to activities such as running, golf, tennis and skiing. I even have one patient who returned to competitive martial arts three months after surgery."

Mrs. Alvis was the first, however, to credit her surgery with her ability to become a mother.