Patti Wilshusen has been riding horses since she was a teenager. But what was supposed to be a relaxing ride on a beautiful summer day turned out to be a nightmare. A harrowing fall from her horse left Patti in immediate, excruciating pain. And it was all downhill from there.
Desperate for relief that her pain pills and heating pad were not providing, she sought the help of Dr. Suneetha Budampati at National Spine & Pain Center’s Alexandria, VA, office. “Patti had no quality of life at that point,” Dr. Budampati said. “So I told her that she could continue to let nature take its course or we could do something that would alleviate the pain, improve her quality of life and get her exercising again.”
The wife of a naval officer, Patti initially sought treatment at her local military hospital, where they diagnosed five compression fractures in her back. She was fitted for a bulky back brace that reached from her neck to her tailbone and told to let the fractures heal on their own.
Patti lived in constant pain for three months, and soon became severely depressed, unable to drive, and on some days, hardly able to get out of bed. “I had to hold my breath first thing in the morning just to get walking,” Patti said. “It hurt that bad.”
That “something” that Dr. Budampati had in mind is a procedure called kyphoplasty. “When the bones in the spine break they don’t snap in two like we might think of an arm or leg bone doing,” Dr. Budampati explained. “They tend to get soft and crumble from the top down.”
So in order to bring Patti’s bones back to the right vertebral height and relieve the compression that was causing her so much pain, Dr. Budampati used x-ray guidance to insert a needle into the compressed vertebrae and inflated a small balloon to create an air cavity. She filled the void with a quick-set bone cement to shore up the crumbling bone and relieve the compression. The outpatient procedure only required local anesthesia and oral medications to reduce anxiety, meaning Patti was home in time for dinner.
Prior to her visit, Patti didn’t know much about kyphoplasty but now she cannot stop singing its praises.
“The relief was almost immediate. I got rid of my medication overnight. It’s remarkable. My husband said, ‘I can hug you without worrying about hurting you!’”
According to Dr. Budampati, Patti’s prognosis is excellent. “Those bones are now probably the strongest bones in her body,” she said. She does have Patti on bone-strengthening medications, however, since early onset osteoporosis probably contributed to the severity of Patti’s injuries.
“That’s what makes our approach different from a lot of other places,” Dr. Budampati added. “We don’t just treat the condition. We treat the underlying cause.”
John Wilshusen is thrilled to see his “child bride” smiling again. And he has advice for anyone who might be suffering in similar pain. “If you’re hesitating because it (kyphoplasty) seems too good to be true, don’t worry about it. It works and it’s worth it.”