Testimonial on behalf of Prof. Dr Rudolph Bertagnoli
By: Jeffrey Donnelly
Date of Surgery: March 13, 2015
Procedure: Implantation of total disc prosthesis model Pro- Disc C NOVA (Synthes) Segments C5- 6 and C6-7
I am a 59 year old male and for 10-12 years I suffered from degenerative disc disease (cervical). It resulted in ever increasing pain in my neck, head, shoulders and arm that caused a significant decrease in quality of life and productivity over the years. I am a CPA and owner of a healthcare consulting company. Over the years, I found the pain made it increasingly more difficult to make it through a full day of work. By the end of each week, I was totally wiped out and would spend the entire weekend on the couch with ice packs on my neck. Then, Monday morning I would start the cycle all over again. Over the first eight years, I tried many different conservative treatment modalities in an attempt to get any kind of relief from the pain. Those treatments included:
Unfortunately, none of these treatments relieved the pain and some of them actually made the pain worse.
However, about four years ago I was introduced to a Pain Treatment Center at a nationally renowned local hospital. They began treating me utilizing Radiofrequency Neurotomy procedures (burning of the nerve endings). These procedures were successful in reducing the pain. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before the nerves grew back and the pain intensified again. Nonetheless, I was very happy with the results each time even though the relief was temporary. I had about 10 of these procedures over the years. Each one would result in the reduction of pain for 1-6 months. I was prepared to continue these procedures the rest of my life if it meant I could avoid major surgery.
In 2014, the Radiofrequency Neurotomy procedures effectiveness started diminishing significantly to the point where they were no longer effective at all. As a result, my physician (who was an Intensive Care Anesthesiologist) ordered an updated MRI on 9/16/2014. My Physician discussed the results with me and concluded that my degenerative disc disease had worsened over the years and that was the reason the Radiofrequency Neurotomy procedures were ineffective. He suggested that the disease had come to the point where I should seriously consider cervical fusion surgery. He referred me to a surgeon at the same hospitals Neuro Surgery Spine Center. Now, this was not the first time that I was referred for cervical fusion surgery. I had been trying to avoid spinal fusion for ten years.
Over that period of time, I had done extensive research. My research included discussions with physicians and patients who have had cervical fusion surgery as well as internet research. It became very clear to me that cervical spinal fusion was somewhat effective when it involved a single disc and the remainder of the spine was healthy. However, for people that have degenerative disc disease where multiple levels are compromised, the success rates are poor.
In fact, once a patient with degenerative disc disease has one disc fused, additional pressure and stress is put on the adjacent discs. If any of those discs are not healthy, this additional stress forces other discs to breakdown more quickly and eventually each of the unhealthy discs will need to be fused. My concern was that eventually most or my entire cervical spine would be fused resulting in very poor mobility, minimal pain reduction and a very poor quality of life. These factors, along with the potential costs and risks of future multiple major surgeries convinced me to NEVER have a cervical fusion.
My Discovery of Prof. Dr. Bartagnoli:
I continued feverishly searching for an alternative to having spinal fusion surgery. Through pure chance, I was having lunch with a business client in January, 2015. He mentioned that he had a friend that did some research on alternative options that were being performed in Germany. I immediately turned my focus on Germany and discovered Prof. Dr. Bertagnoli’s website and his vast experience and success with artificial disc replacement surgery. I instantly felt like this would finally be a viable option for me. However, I had a lot of work to do first. I devoured every piece of information of his website as well as any other information I could find on the web regarding Prof. Bertagnoli.
After reading everything I could find, I was even more convinced that this could be the answer I had been searching for.
On- Line Evaluation:
My next step was to complete the on-line evaluation process. The process was simple; provide my medical history and upload my recent MRI and X-rays. Within days, I received a recommendation from Prof. Bertagnoli which was total artificial disc replacements at C5-6 and C6-7. I was amazed at the efficiency of the process compared to what you have to go through to get evaluated by a good doctor in the U.S. First of all, just to make an appointment for evaluation in the U.S. would take weeks or even months and they most certainly would not be doing anything on-line. Prof. Bertagnoli’s recommendation made perfect logical sense to me and I became more hopeful that relief from the pain was in sight.
Before I moved forward with scheduling the surgery with Prof. Bertagnoli, I wanted to speak with previous patients to get their opinion on their experiences. I did this on my own using patient testimonials on Prof. Bertagnoli’s website. I contacted two well-known athletes who both had ADR surgery at multiple levels. I did research on the internet to locate each of them. One I was able to get an email address and one I got a phone number. I really was not expecting any response at all. After all, I was making cold calls without any referrals from Prof. Bertagnoli’s office. To my surprise, both of the individuals responded to me and each one spent a significant amount of time answering my questions. In summary, both had nothing but very positive things to say about all aspects of their surgery, care and the results.
I was already convinced that I was going to go through with the surgery but theses two individuals made me feel even more convinced and accordingly, I decided with 100% conviction that I was going to move forward. I will be forever grateful for the help of these two gentlemen.
Scheduling the Surgery:
Scheduling was easy and efficient; all done via email. The surgery was scheduled timely and Prof. Bertagnoli’s staff was very responsive and even arranged lodging and ground transportation for me in Germany.
The Hospital Stay and Surgery:
I was admitted to Bogen Hospital the day before my surgery. From the moment I entered the building I felt comfortable. The hospital is very clean and modern. The staff is both professional and warm and it was pretty clear from the start that the place was well run and efficient. As an example, I was sent for an MRI. My brother (who accompanied me on my trip) waited in my room. The process was so quick and efficient that I was back in my room within 20-30 minutes. My brother could not believe it when I walked back in the room. His exact response was “there is no way you had an MRI done that fast”. We joked that the same MRI would have probably taken hours in a U.S hospital.
The night before the surgery I met Prof. Dr. Bertagnoli. I immediately felt comfortable with him…he is a great guy. He explained the surgery in detail and answered all my questions. One thing that I want to point out was, because I have degenerative disc disease and there were signs of degeneration at other levels (other than C-5-7 that were going to be replaced), I urged Prof. Bertagnoli to go ahead and replace other levels if he thought during surgery that I may benefit from replacement of other levels. Prof. Bertagnoli responded that he felt very strongly that C5-7 were causing my pain and that it would not be necessary to replace any other levels.
The surgery itself went very well and I spent the night in the recovery room. The next morning, I was back in my regular room. I felt great! The baseline pain that I had been feeling for over ten years was totally gone. In fact, I felt so good that my brother and I walked into town for both lunch and dinner. I was doing so well that I was discharged the next day.
After discharge I stayed at a great hotel in Straubing that was arranged by Prof. Bertagnoli’s staff. The hotel clearly catered to Prof. Bertagnoli’s patients. There were special beds in the rooms that inclined and reclined and they provided plenty of extra pillows to make sure that I could find a comfortable position to rest and sleep. I was surprisingly very comfortable and had no problems sleeping! We stayed at the hotel for three more nights. During the days, my brother and I took a lot of long walks sightseeing and discovering restaurants. Both Bogen and Straubing are very quaint and interesting towns. The restaurants that we found were very good and the beer was even better!!!!
As recommended by Prof. Bertagnoli’s staff, I flew back to Maryland in First Class. It was expensive but well worth it. The seats are wide and totally recline into a flat bed. I was very concerned about the flight because in the past, flying had always caused me significant neck pain. Not so on this flight; I was comfortable the entire flight with no pain.
The Recovery Process at Home:
The first six weeks I took it pretty easy. I worked from home when I was able and rested a lot. I was warned by Prof. Bertagnoli’s staff that once the anesthesia and steroids were out of my system, I would likely feel some level of pain again. But this pain would be different and was caused by the body adjusting to the fact that two new discs were added to my spine where basically there were no discs prior to the surgery because they had degenerated. This adds height to the cervical spine and there is some pain and discomfort as the nerves and muscles are being stretched to adjust to the new discs. I was able to manage the pain pretty effectively with muscle relaxants, meloxicam, ice and heat. Although I was prescribed an opiate pain medication in case I needed it, at no time was it necessary and I never used any of it.
At week six after surgery, I began physical therapy. I was very dedicated to the process and went to physical therapy twice a week. In addition, I was doing many of the exercises at home an additional two days a week. I went to physical therapy for six months. I found out later that was not necessary. I emailed Prof. Bertagnoli six months post op and let him know that I was still feeling discomfort and I wanted to know if I was doing something wrong. He immediately got back to me and told me to stop physical therapy. He explained that there was no benefit for me to be doing PT for so long and that it was probably causing more irritation and harm than good. He was right. I stopped PT and started feeling better.
How I am Doing Now:
It has been nearly a year since my surgery. In the past 30 days, I can feel a definite change. I have very little to no pain and I am back to working out on a regular basis. They say that the longer that you have lived with the pain prior to surgery, the longer it takes your body to adjust and for you to feel 100%. Well, I was living with the pain for 12 years so I expected it to take a while for my body to adjust. I feel better and better each day and I feel very encouraged and confident that I am very close to being 100% recovered and feeling great.
I cannot believe how lucky I was to find Prof. Dr. Bertagnoli. He has changed my outlook on life. I had been in pain for so long and struggled to get any relief that I contemplated retirement many times. Sitting at a desk and working on a laptop was a real struggle. I had stopped working out and my social life was shrinking. Now, I am pain free 95% of the time and back to my old self and very productive.
I look back at the entire experience with Prof. Dr. Bertagnoli very fondly and see it as a turning point in my life. I have spent my entire career in healthcare finance, primarily working in hospitals. Like most of us in the U.S., I was always under the impression that we have the best healthcare system in the world. My experience in Germany proved otherwise. The entire process relative to my surgery from beginning to end was efficient, professional clean, safe and cost effective. The entire staff was professional, proficient and friendly. In my 59 years, I have never come close to such a positive experience and outcome in any U.S. hospital. I will be forever grateful to Prof. Dr. Bertagnoli and his entire staff.