Tried Experimental Procedure in 1990s, Still Pain-Free 22 Years Later

Betty Bennett couldn't find relief from multiple doctors, so she was the first to sign up for an experimental disc cage replacement method developed in the 1990s. She's still pain free after twenty two years.

My name is Betty Bennett, and I worked in a dental office, I’m married with two children. Out of the blue one morning my neck was hurting. I went to a chiropractor, I called my physician, and they referred me to a neurologist. The neurologist said I did have a ruptured disc in my neck, and that was in 1991. They did some physical therapy, but nothing seemed to work so he did surgery. He basically removed a piece of broken discs out of a nerve. So I still had a ruptured disc after the surgery, I no longer had that chunk wasn’t in my nerve causing pain. I believe we did an MRI, a myelogram maybe, and several procedures like that beforehand. It just showed that the disc was ruptured.

The neurologist I was recommended to had a pretty good reputation so I didn't’ feel the need for a second opinion. I thought he was one of the best in the area, so I decided to go with him. Because of his reputation I was pretty confident in him. I didn’t question him that much. I learned a lot from that experience. I don’t recall he did a lot of explanation, he basically told me he would go in through the back of my neck and take care of the problem. I thought this one surgery was supposed to take care of my pain.

I thought this one surgery was supposed to take care of my pain.

I was also having some numbness in my face and that was bothering me quite a bit, that’s another reason I want to go on and have the surgery before that got worse. I went into surgery, the numbness in my face did stop, the pain did stop, but I continued having some problems. I went back to him several times and I asked him what are we going to do about the pain in my thoracic area and weakness in one of my legs. I was asking him about that and he actually told me in the thoracic area you can’t have ruptured discs because of your rib cage being attached to it. That supports it and keeps it from discs rupturing. So of course, I believe him.

I kept going back to him several times, and he finally told me “You need to get yourself a wheelchair.” I was 38 at the time. He said I was going to be in a wheelchair before long. Gave me a prescription for muscle relaxers, pain pills, and anti-depressants. I threw the prescriptions back at him and I said I’m not depressed, I’m in pain. Is there anyone you’d refer me to for a second opinion? He said, “No, if you don’t trust me I’m not going to refer you to anywhere.”

“You need to get yourself a wheelchair.” I was 38 at the time.

I went back to my physician that had referred me to the neurologist. He was so confident that I had had lower back surgery, that he kinda argued with me a bit, but I said “No, he never did lower back surgery on me.” He told me to turn around and looked at my lower back. When he saw that there was no incision, he said he’ll be back in just a minute. Because he was pretty confident that the doctor had done surgery. He went over to his office, which was connected. He said, “They’ll be calling you before the end of the day with an appointment to see him.” But they were very difficult to work with me and get me an appointment to get back in. And I wasn’t really excited about going back in to see him anyway.

I thought maybe this pain is just my lot in life, and I have to deal with it. But the pain kept on, it kept getting worse. I discussed it with my husband and we decided that no, we need to pursue something else. That this is not right and this is not how I want to live the rest of my life.

This is not right and this is not how I want to live the rest of my life.

After that surgery in 91, I went to see a chiropractor in 1993 in Gallatin [TN]. He said, “You’ve had this problem a long time, so give me six months.” I agreed. Well, three months into it he said, “My treatment is not helping. Three more months isn’t going to make any difference.” He referred me to another neurologist here in Nashville, that was in the same building as Dr. McCord, but I didn’t know that at the time. So I spent some time with this neurologist, and he asked me about the ruptured disc in my thoracic spine. I told him what the previous neurologist said, that those discs can’t rupture because of the rib cage. He was very confused, he asked for my records. We spent some time with my records, and he diagnosed me with two or three ruptured discs that the first doctor never acknowledged.

He said he’d give my paperwork to a doctor already in his office building and have them call me. This guy’s really on the edge of some new things, I think you’ll benefit from his expertise. So he told me his name, Dr. David McCord. I want to send your paperwork over to his office so you can talk to him. I said Okay, and in a few days his office called and wanted me to come in for an appointment. I was excited they got back to me that quickly.

July 1993 I saw Dr. McCord. We came in for the appointment, and he actually saw me on a day the office was closed. He was in surgeries all day, so he came over to see me between surgeries. He had reviewed my records and my charts and my tests, and he seemed really excited about a new procedure that he and another doctor had been working with. He told me he had been overseas, that they had done some procedures over there, and there was a doctor in Texas that he had been working with on these new procedures. And he asked me if I’d be interested in those. At the time I had been in pain for over two years. He seemed really excited about this, and I got wrapped up in his excitement. He described to me about the carbon cages that replaced the disc. So I was really excited about that, because you still have more movement, instead of fusing the vertebrae together. I was excited about that new idea, that new technique. He said he was going to do it laparoscopic, instead of opening me up the way the old technique would be [through the back]. That was a big plus, just having a few small incisions instead of a couple of big incisions. He said that if he couldn’t do it that way, the alternative would be...since it was in the thoracic and ruptured on the inside of the spine, then he’d have to open me up from the front, almost like heart surgery.

The recovery time would be months, but with the laparoscopic surgery and the cage disc replacement, recovery time would be just a few weeks. So I’m thinking what have I got to lose? So I agreed to do the new procedure the way he wanted to do it. In August of 1993, I went into the hospital and he did the surgery. He did T7 and 8, I believe, and Lumbar 2. I woke up, I just had a few incisions here and there. I didn’t know until I woke up what the outcome was going to be.

I woke up after the surgery, I was in ICU because he as able to perform the new surgical technique, he wanted them to watch me closely. So he had me go to ICU instead of to a room. And they watched over me. So I didn’t know until I woke up, hours after, which way it had gone. Because I trusted you to try it, to do the laparoscopic, if you couldn’t do it, you’d have to go the other way. I trusted you a lot then, didn’t I? (laughs)

I didn’t move very much that first day or anything, but when they moved me to room, he wanted me to start getting up right away. And I got up! I’d walk around, move around. The more I moved around, the better it was. When I was home, he gave me some restrictions for a few heavy lifting, no excessive twisting and turning...just be careful for a few weeks and let this heal. I went back to see Dr. McCord after a few weeks and he was very pleased with the results. He did X-rays, said everything was in place, exactly where it should be where he put it. I was healing beautifully. He lightened the restrictions a little bit. I did take some medications but I don’t think I took them very long, maybe just for a few days. The pain was gone! It worked! I was back at work in six weeks.