May 27, 2022 by John Fernandez
Marine Geologist Quickly Resumes Active Life After Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery at Miami Neuroscience Institute
Pam Reid, a marine geologist & professor at the University of Miami, is a very active 72-year-old, traveling to such locations as the Atacama Desert of northern Chile and Shark Bay in western Australia.
But about two years ago, she was told she needed spine surgery, mostly resulting from severe spinal stenosis & spondylosis, conditions that cause degenerative narrowing of the spinal nerves. At first, Ms. Reid did not want to move forward with surgery because it would derail much of her work and travel.
“As a geologist, I have a very active life,” explains Ms. Reid. “Actually, we have a small laboratory in the Bahamas, where we do marine science. My husband (Jack) is a very active sailor and I really enjoy swimming and biking and walking until I had problems with my back and that started restricting those activities.”
(Watch video: Hear from patient Pam Reid and Christine Villoch, M.D., a specialist in pain management and physical rehabilitation at Miami Neuroscience Institute’s Spine Center; and Raul Vasquez, M.D., director of complex spine surgery at Miami Neuroscience Institute. Video by Alcyene Almeida Rodrigues.)
She was referred to Christine Villoch, M.D., a specialist in pain management and physical rehabilitation at Miami Neuroscience Institute’s Spine Center. Dr. Villoch was extremely helpful in alleviating Ms. Reid’s pain. “I instantly had just such a warm feeling from her (Dr. Villoch) and I needed someone,” said Ms. Reid. “I am terrified about this and I need someone to hold my hand and I felt so comfortable with her.”
“Lumbar stenosis is basically narrowing of the canal where all the nerves are that go down to your legs, but also to your bladder and your bowel,” explains Dr. Villoch. “We talked over the different options, both conservative and surgical, so we decided to move forward with an injection (for the pain) and she did quite well with that injection for a while.”
However, Dr. Villoch recommended she see her colleague, Raul Vasquez, M.D., director of complex spine surgery at Miami Neuroscience Institute, because her condition remained precarious and would eventually require spinal fusion surgery, which involves a minimally invasive procedure at the Institute’s Spine Center.
Dr. Vasquez scheduled her surgery for January 2022. But Ms. Reid began to feel numbness in her legs and went to the emergency room at Baptist Hospital shortly before Thanksgiving of last year.
Ms. Reid and her husband were in Key Largo at the time. “All of a sudden,” she recalls, “I had numbness in my saddle area and I’m like, ‘I don’t know if this is an emergency or not.’ I got in touch with Dr. Villoch, who then answered my email at 10 o’clock at night, got in touch with Dr. Vasquez in the morning, who phoned me and said, ‘Go to the emergency room.’ “
Recalls Dr. Vasquez about Ms. Reid: “She came to me very anxious, very anxious about spine surgery, very anxious about going to a spine clinic — and preoccupied because she was in all this pain and disability. This is where we thrive … in making the patient understand and feel comfortable, not only by understanding their condition, but about what is the next step and how we’re going to help them.”
Ms. Reid’s minimally invasive spinal fusion surgery involved one incision to decompress the spinal nerve, release the pressure from the nerve, and stabilize the spine, explains Dr. Vasquez.
“With all the technology that we have — computer navigation system, neuro monitoring — we perform some of the safest procedures involving the spine,” said Dr. Vasquez. “We were able to accomplish this in just a matter of a couple hours. We decompressed the nerves and put in rods and screws to stabilize the spine.”
Ms. Reid was walking that same day. “The nurse sort of helps me and I get up and walk,” recalls Ms. Reid. “I couldn’t believe I was walking right after surgery. Jack was thrilled. He sent this picture to everybody that said, ‘Pam’s fine.’ “
Her recovery has been remarkable. “Christmas Eve was the first time I went to the pool down in Key Largo,” she said. “Got in the pool and swam a kilometer, 40 lengths, with zero pain. Zero pain and I was thrilled.”
“To see that she was happy again, made me just thrilled,” said Dr. Villoch.
“Ms. Reid’s case is the best example of patient-driven advocacy,” says Dr. Vasquez. “She was diligent enough to get a second opinion and a third opinion. She looked at the centers and she made herself sure that she felt comfortable with not only the healthcare system, but with the surgeon and her overall care.”
Ms. Reid is extremely grateful for the care she received at Miami Neuroscience Institute.
“My advice for anyone who’s in this situation, and who’s being told they need spinal fusion, is to talk to more than one doctor until you find someone that you’re really comfortable with, and be confident that you can have a speedy and easy recovery.”