The business of building materials was tearing Billy Lewis down.
“When I was 20, it was nothing for me and another guy to get into a truck and carry 300 or 400 or even 500 pieces of dry wall every week,” said Lewis, now 40 years old and an outside sales specialist for a large building supply store. “When you go twisting and tugging on that stuff, it’s not long before you’ll feel it. I may have to load and lift 80 pounds of this and 250 pounds of that. I’m sure 20-plus years of walking around on a concrete slab is not the best thing in the world to do to your body.”
He’d already had back surgery, wrist surgery and three knee surgeries before unrelenting neck pain and headaches sent him to Lawrence Maccree, D.O., neurosurgeon at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge.
“He really is the best doctor I’ve had in my life,” said Lewis, who had an anterior cervical fusion and discectomy (ACDF) of his C5-6 vertebrae last December. “I really appreciate what he did for me because it definitely made my quality of life better.”
“It felt like I had a broken neck,” Lewis said, describing the pain he was feeling when he first went to see Dr. Maccree last October.
“Mr. Lewis came in with pain in his neck, headache and pain radiating down his right arm,” said Dr. Maccree. “He said the symptoms traveled down the outside of his arm, over the bicep and into the first three fingers of his right hand, which corresponds with what we describe as a ‘C6 distribution.’”
An MRI of Lewis’s neck confirmed Dr. Macree’s diagnosis as a “foraminal narrowing” at the C5-C6 vertebrae. “That’s a narrowing of the opening where the nerve goes out. The narrowing was on both sides of Mr. Lewis’s neck, but it was worse on the right side due to a combination of bone spur and disc.”
When physical therapy and steroid injections failed to fully provide relief, Dr. Maccree offered Lewis ACDF or anterior (front) cervical (neck) discectomy (disc removal) and fusion (the bonding of two or more vertebrae).
The procedure is the most common surgery for degenerative disc disease. Dr. Maccree estimates he’s done between 700-800 such procedures during 13 years of practice – not surprising, as more than 200,000 procedures are performed in the U.S. each year.
The surgery begins with a small incision near the center of the patient’s throat, allowing the surgeon access to the damaged discs, the soft, shock-absorbing pad that lies between each vertebra. After removing the bad disc and any bone spurs, the surgeon widens the openings where the nerve roots emerge from the spine.
To relieve compression on the spinal cord or nerve roots, the height between the vertebrae is restored by inserting a tiny wedge-shaped titanium “spacer” device. “The medical industry is moving away from the old ‘plates’ that were so common,” said Dr. Maccree. He explained that the new spacers are self-contained without plates, with self-drilling screws used to affix them. As the bone heals and fuses, the spacers maintain the height and the opening where the nerve root emerges.
The wedge shape of the spacer also more closely conforms to the spine’s natural curvature than the once-favored straight cages. “The combination of maintaining that natural alignment and curvature and not having a plate out front where bone spurs want to connect and grow onto it lessens the chances of adjacent-level disease,” he said.
Four months after surgery, Lewis has no neck pain and fewer headaches, and he is back at work in the world of sheetrock, plywood and lumber.
“That was the first time I’ve had surgery at Methodist, and I was really impressed,” he said. “It was a really good experience for me. It was a good experience at Dr. Maccree’s office too. All those guys did me good from beginning to end – their facility, the hospital, everybody! Dr. Maccree really is the best. I think the world of him.”
To learn more about spine surgery services at Methodist Medical Center and Covenant Health, please visit www.covenanthealth.com/spine-surgery.