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She was Leery of Surgery, But Needed to Reclaim Quality of Life | Comprehensive Spine Center Got Eileen Back to the Beach


Eileen Haney swore she’d never have back surgery. Now she says it’s the best thing she’s ever done.

Trouble started for the 80-year-old North Philadelphian last fall. “Out of the blue, my leg started to bother me,” says Haney. “An awful pain was going down my right leg. I couldn’t drive. I could barely walk.”

She consulted a Redeemer Health orthopedic physician who administered several epidural injections, but they didn’t help much. The orthopedist referred her to James McKenzie, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Redeemer Health’s Comprehensive Spine Center, a partnership with Global Neurosciences Institute. The center emphasizes a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach and offers the combined expertise of orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and rehabilitation experts.

Collaborative nature

By the time she saw Dr. McKenzie, Haney was suffering severely. “It was really taking a toll on me,” she says, “and I didn’t have any quality of life.”

Dr. McKenzie found that Haney had lumbar degenerative disc disease—a condition in which age-related wear and tear on spinal discs causes pain. He worked with her to manage the condition. “Surgery was going to be a last resort,” he says. But Haney continued to deteriorate. 

“Over time, Eileen was having so much difficulty walking and tolerating pain, even when she was just standing,” Dr. McKenzie recalls. “It was impacting her ability to do any activities. We reached a point when we decided to consider surgery.”

Haney was fond of the surgeon. “Dr. McKenzie was so nice and professional and honest,” she says. “He made me feel very comfortable.” Nonetheless, she had doubts about undergoing an operation. 

“I was really leery of having this surgery,” she says. “I thought I was too old. Dr. McKenzie assured me that I wasn’t too old, and that my legs were still strong, and I wouldn’t have a problem. And I didn’t.”

Dr. McKenzie decided to draw on the collaborative nature of the spine center. He asked center colleague, Atom Sarkar, MD, a neurosurgeon at Global Neurosciences Institute, to pitch in. “Having Dr. Sarkar there would reduce the operation time,” he explains. 

“It was great,” Haney recalls. “I had immediate relief. The next day I was up, walking around. I had a new lease on life.” Home visits from a physical therapist and visiting nurse aided her recovery.

“Now I’m back to doing everything,” she says. “I can walk. I can drive again. I’m more independent.”

Dr. McKenzie was pleased with his patient’s recovery. “She bounced back quickly,” he says. “We were blessed to see such a good outcome for her.” 

He remembers a particularly poignant moment: “At her six-week follow-up, her husband said, ‘Thanks for getting my wife back.’ And that’s why we do the things we do. We help people restore their function and get back to the lives they want.”

Best thing I ever did

Dr. McKenzie believes the interdisciplinary spine center represents the future of spine surgery. And he expects the center to expand. “Our plan is to grow,” he says, “and to provide tertiary-level care in a community setting, instead of having to go downtown.” 

The center focuses on what’s best for each individual, which may or may not be surgery, he says. “Our goal is to have surgery be a last resort,” he explains. Center surgeons work with patients to ensure they get therapy or alternative treatments they need first.

Dr. McKenzie also values the relationships he builds with each patient. “Treat people the way you want to be treated. Treat patients like you treat family,” he says.

Haney is very happy with her experience at the center. “I got such good care,” she says. “Everyone was so nice and concerned about me.” 

As for the surgery, she says, “It’s the best thing I ever did. I swore I would never have back surgery, but then I realized I wasn’t living.” She is living now, including regular trips to her condo at the beach. “I’m back to the shore pretty much every weekend now,” she says.

A partnership between Redeemer Health and Global Neurosciences Institute, the Comprehensive Spine Center is an innovative program where the combined expertise of neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and rehabilitation specialists work together to provide dedicated support and navigation throughout your care. Call 215-910-4463 or visit www.compspinecenter.com for further information.

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