Wednesday, January 7, 2015
My name is Doug Nelson and live in the Seattle area. Dr. Bertagnoli replaced four discs in my cervical spine with the Pro-Disc C. I was 43 at the time of surgery and like anyone else reading these stories I was scared as hell about what laid ahead. Was this guy real? Could he really replace my discs when so many US surgeons had told me it would never work nor was it allowed by the FDA? Am I supposed to believe what my own doctors are telling me or some guy on the other side of the planet that I have never met? Is it insane to wire money to someone I have never met? What kind of scam is this? It was a giant leap of faith to get to where I am now and I am eternally grateful to Dr. Bertagnoli. I have always been an strong athletic person participating in any physical challenge thrown in front of me until I suddenly couldn't. My story begins in August 2012 and I have delayed writing my story for 18 months so that any results I am reporting don't only encompass immediate results but also medium term results.
In August 2012 I noticed I was having trouble completing my normal gym workouts. I wasn't in pain and my only symptom was weakness; and it was becoming increasingly noticeable. I thought it may be diet or electrolyte deficiency but no matter what I did nothing helped. Eventually I sought medical help and asked my doctor to do an MRI of my rotator cuff to see if an old injury may be causing the problem. The MRI showed nothing. He suggested that it could be MS or Thoracic Output Syndrome. Devastating. He scheduled me for a nerve study where they poke and prod you with needles charged with electrical current. (fun) The study showed I was negative for Thoracic Output Syndrome but had latent to no nerve conductivity along certain nerves leading to my spine. I was now headed for an MRI of my cervical spine which revealed that I had two herniated discs, two bulging discs, bone spurs, and stenosis. By this time my right arm was nearly half the size of my left arm. I couldn't believe my eyes. It happened so fast and still I was having no pain.
Having had a laminectomy in my lumbar spine four years prior I sought out my surgeon for advice. He shrugged his shoulders and said he will just fuse three of my vertebrae with a metal plate and bone grafting. I asked if he could replace the discs. He replied that ADR is not allowed in the US nor is it a successful long term solution. He suggested that any disc replacement will fail due to auto fusion over an artificial disc. He said the technology just wasn't there yet. I continued to question him. Certainly technology had to have progressed beyond fusing... He told me to go Google "Heterotopic Ossification" or "HO". HO is certainly a real thing and many people with ADR's do get it. Over the next couple months I visited several surgeons. All of them told me the same thing. I was not getting the answers I wanted to hear so I turned to the internet and spent hour after hour reading blogs. Eventually I found Dr. Bertagnoli. I uploaded my MRI and within the week I received a response stating I was a candidate for 2-4 level ADR. He assured me that HO is real but that how he completes the surgery minimizes the risk and that if it fails it is no different than if I had been fused in the first place. What I heard was that there was as good chance I would not have HO. He instructed me to wire him $$$$ and to contact his office to schedule my surgery. Many questions came to mind… Was that too easy? Referrals? Insurance? Success? Failure? Death? Time from work? I continued to do my own online research trying to put my mind at ease. Dr. Bertagnoli's office sent me names and numbers of a dozen patients or so here in the US. I called every one of them, each giving rave reviews, and a surprising willingness to speak of their experience. We scheduled surgery for June 2013.
In Spring of 2013 my left arm began to show signs of weakness and pain. The pain grew to a point where the Oxy couldn't cut it, I couldn't sleep, and I literally laid moaning on the couch all day and night. It was unbearable. (Like a truck driving back and forth over my left arm) I was certain there was no way I was going to make it to Germany in two weeks let alone to Seattle to get fused. My doctor prescribed me a very heavy dose of prednisone and the inflammation in the spine reduced to the point where I could get to the plane and fly to Germany. Am I out of my mind? I wired money to someone I have never met, flew to Germany when I speak no German, and I'm about to let this guy cut in to my neck to replace my discs? Yep. I am crazy, but for those that have studied the results of fusion it was only out of desperation that I chose ADR. At 43 I have many years of living left ahead of me and I don't want limited mobility or in long term pain.
The trip to Germany was easy. We flew in to Munich and Dr. Bertagnoli's driver picked us up. We drove an hour north to the small town of Bogen. Our driver pointed out the hospital as he drove to our hotel just one block away. We dropped our bags and wondered over to take a peak in the hospital. It wasn't a fancy high tech place but ProSpine had a definite presence. We met several American patients that were about to or just had undergone spine surgery. We set a time to meet Dr. Bertagnoli that afternoon. When we met he came in the room with my charts and suggested that we replace all four discs so I didn't have to come back again. He spoke perfect english and worked very hard to put my mind at ease. He showed me a sample of the disc he intended to install and explained the procedure. I agreed to the four level ADR. That was the last time I would see Dr. Bertagnoli until after surgery. His staff told me to come back at 9:00 AM and check in for surgery. Really? That was easy. That night I ate well and hung out with my wife hoping the next day would never come.
I checked in for surgery the next morning and went through a battery of tests. Eventually they wheeled me to surgery and it was over. I remained in my bed for 24 hours with my wife by my side. I was in no pain and my arm no longer hurt. The day after that I was up and wondering about the hospital. After five days I moved out of the hospital to another hotel that was nicely set up for patients of Dr Bertagnoli in the neighboring town of Straubing. Every three days or so we visited the hospital for checkups. I remained there for 14 more days watching movies, working, and strolling about the town on a quest to find the best gelato.
I was home just 19 days after leaving for Germany. 30 days out of surgery I was in my boat crossing sizeable waves. 45 days out of surgery I was riding my ATV. 60 days out of surgery I was riding a wakeboard. 150 days out of surgery and I was snow skiing in the mountains. One year out of surgery and I rode 204 miles on my bike in a one day race from Seattle to Portland. Life is back to normal and 18 months after surgery I feel great. I wrestle with my kids, ski, lift weights, ride bikes and ATV's and find nothing that I can't do because of my ADR's. I still have a little numbness in my finger, atrophy of the triceps, and a stiff neck. I continue to have my neck massaged, take lots of anti-inflammatories, and relax in the tub regularly. Of course I worry that I may auto fuse someday, but as of right now, things are good. I guarantee one thing for sure… I have more mobility than any patient that has been fused. Thank you Dr. Bertagnoli, Tim Vicknair, and the professional ProSpine staff. Life is good! I am happy to speak with anyone considering ADR as a solution to their spine problems.