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SCI from herniated disc

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    SCI from herniated disc

    This is my first posting but I've been reading the forum almost compulsively since my husband got injured about 9 weeks ago. His case is one that puzzles most people, including his doctors. Early May 2010 he had a sharp pain in his legs and back. After a visit to the doctor and MRI he was diagnosed with a bulging disc between T11 and T12 (not very common from what I understand). With a treatment of steroids and acupuncture the pain went away completely. Couple of weeks later, May 18 to be exact, he woke up with a very light discomfort, went to the bathroom for his morning routine and it hit him. Out of the blue he got the worst pain he's ever felt. We called 911 and he was taken to the closest hospital. That's when we realized he was not feeling or moving his feet. At that point he could feel the front of his legs to below the knee, raise his legs and flex the knees with some effort.
    The MRI that day revealed that the bulging disc ruptured and the loose disc fragment was compressing the spinal cord. Immediately he got huge dose of steroids and was helicopter lifted to Emory in Atlanta (we live in Alpharetta, a suburb north of Atlanta). That same night he got decompression surgery and his T11 and T12 were fused for stability. The surgeon was the main specialist in the area on that type of thoracic surgery. Right after the surgery, which was considered a success, he could move his legs and even the toes slightly. I truly thought in couple of months he'd be walking and going. Well, not exactly, about 3 days after the injury he could not move his legs at all and he lost all feeling from above his belly button.
    He was transferred to the Shepherd Center where he started therapy as soon as he could. The first two weeks were very tough as he recovered from the very intrusive surgery. He had several complications: ileus, white cells high count, tubes, cardiac arrhythmias, unbearable pain, anemia, etc. He started his therapy full throttle the third week at Shepherd and two weeks later more complications: the surgery wound reopened, air entered his chest and he got a pneumothorax. He had to go through surgery again to reclose, thank goodness there was no infection but as a result from surgery he got 9 clots in his legs.
    He's much better now but he can't feel or move below the waist. He'll be coming home next week and we'll be going every day to Shepherd for the day program. With all the tough crap we got, we are the most upbeat we could possibly be and have not lost hope. However, it drives me insane that without any trauma he has this severe injury in many ways worse than others that have survived crashes, 30 feet falls, etc. I don't understand why his loss of sensation and function got worse, could it be spinal shock? I hope so, but it's been 9 weeks (4 from the second surgery). He has recovered some strength and sensation in the trunk and abdomen but no much more than that. He can't feel anything around the anus, so I guess he's complete. One good thing though, the pain is very much under control.
    Anybody with a similar experience losing more function after surgery? did it come back?

    Although my experience was not nearly as horrific as your husband's, it was similar in some ways.

    My surgeon was also an expert in his field and my hospital was a major on in Los Angeles. I had a cervical laminectomy at C3-7 as my spinal cord was severely compressed (5.7mm width at one level) and a major fall, accident, etc. was likely to lead to a SPINAL CORD INJURY (so I had surgery to PREVENT an SCI). In the post-op recovery room, I was told to move my arms, hands, fingers, legs, knees, ankles, feet, toes, etc. All worked, as did sensation. All was good.

    After I was transferred into a regular room, I have memories of normal movement, including a distinct memory of scratching my head, where I discovered scabs from my head being pinned in some way during surgery. The next few days were a blur as I was in horrible pain for which I was finally given morphine after it was realized that one of the more common pain relievers does nothing for me.

    At some point in those first few days, probably day two, I woke up and realized I could not move my arms or hands. I could move my fingers somewhat. Sensation was normal. The doctors were baffled, but suspected a blood clot in the surgical wound area. An MRI showed no blood clot, but instead a very swollen spinal cord; an EMG showed severe deficits in my deltoids and biceps. Over the next few weeks and months, my hands and fingers recovered to a great extent, but twenty-three months later, my biceps and deltoids do not function at all; they do not even fire. My triceps are now normal, but because I have no biceps, I cannot raise my arms at all, making bathing and dressing a very difficult task.

    I am still at a loss as to what happened to me. The surgeon stated he believed that I had a spinal cord stroke. A neurologist and a rehabilitation doctor in the same hospital felt my spinal cord swelled after being compressed so much for so long and that the swelling led to a loss of blood flow to my spinal cord. No one really knows or at the very least, is not willing to spell it out due to possible legal ramifications.

    Your husband was lucky to some extent: he got treatment and steroids quickly. No one can really tell you how much he will recover although most recovery takes place in the first year or so.


      So sorry to hear this t11t12. your husband had one of those operations from hell. Some people don't even have the surgery, and end up with spinal cord injury. Tred Barta is a somewhat famous blohard sports guy who woke up with it, paralysis, and has gone on.
      I went in for operation walking, albeit, stooped forward some, due to pain, and came home rolling. I'm an incomplete, but it sure doesn't seem right. I never got an apology from doc , but many other professionals have apologized. But what the hell, life goes on, and hope your husband finds his legs again, or lives with it the best he can.


        I'm sorry to hear about your husband. The good thing is that you are near Shepherd - it's a top-notch facility.
        Hopefully one of the SCI nurses will chime in soon. It seems like there might be something going on since he had numbness above his belly button -- which would pretty much be above his level of injury.
        It can take weeks for the nervous system to settle after such a surgery/injury.
        How old is your husband? Hopefully he can get into a good PT/OT routine at Shepherd and make some progress.
        Stay strong.

        Best wishes!
        Ugh, I've been kissed by a dog!
        Get some hot water, get some iodine ...
        -- Lucy VanPelt


          Thanks for your responses. It is good to know that others understand what we are going through. This forum has been a great resource for us.
          The great news is that my husband is coming home in two days. Everyone at Shepherd has been wonderful: doctors, nurses, therapists. He has done very well with his PT and OT, starting to be somehow independent. He still needs my help but is gaining more and more confidence every day. The only thing is that we feel that all the effort is focused on getting him to live with his injury and not much on stimulating return.
          Kari - we haven't gotten a good explanation of what happened to my husband. Most doctors mention swelling as a possible cause but basically don't spend much time talking about it. On Thursday we have the first appointment with his surgeon since we went to Shepherd and we'll see what he says.
          Fishing guy - you are right, life goes on and we are trying to get back to enjoying it as much as we possible at any level of recovery but we are hoping for the best, which includes walking. Time will tell.
          Lucy - my husband is 42 and otherwise healthy. He's getting stronger everyday. He is a big guy, not huge but big enough to make it hard to move using only his upper body. He's improving every day though. Therapists have been great.
          The other good news is that he's gaining sensation in areas where he was not feeling anything. Not huge gains but couple of inches down and that gives us hope. We'll keep going to Shepherd's day program for few more weeks. We'll see how it goes.


            I had a similar injury. I sent you a private message.



              I am so sorry to hear about your husband SCI are scary things, i've recently learned. I'm new here too, so i'm not sure how much help I will be but what i can tell you is attitude is EVERYTHING!! My spinal cord was compressed from t4-t9 due to an epidural abcess induced by trauma. My feeling and movement were gone before I had the emergency surgery. Over a period of 2 days i lost everything from the waist down. I had he surgery and almost immediately i was able to move my toes; however, i still couldn't feel anything. I spent 4 days in ICU and 5 more days in a regular room before i was transferred to inpatient rehab. I experienced some secondary infection and had 3 bloodclots in my arm. I took so many antibiotics I shouldn't ever get a cold again! When i got there, i couldn't stand up on my own. If they stood me up both knees and both ankles buckled and i couldn't feel it when they did. I spent 4 weeks in rehab before i got released and I walked out of that place with crutches. My feeling is still iffy, my balance is off, but my legs are strong and i work them out every day.

              It is important to focus on learning to live life again after SCI but in my opinion don't neglect strengthening the legs and core muscles!