Spine Center Patient Stories
At NYU Langone’s Spine Center, our patients receive care from orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons who are leaders in their fields. Our patients share their success stories after treatment.
Mia’s Story About Vertebral Body Tethering for Scoliosis
“After surgery, my back stopped hurting, I don’t snore anymore, and I’m 2 centimeters taller now that I can stand up straight.”
—Mia, Age 12
Mia was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 11, after a day of skiing with her father, Gonzalo. He noticed a hump on her back when she bent over to pick up her skis.
Her parents took her to a doctor in their home city of Madrid, where they learned that Mia had scoliosis. The X-ray showed that her spine had formed an S-shaped curve, causing the unevenness in her back, as well as pain. Mia started wearing a back brace, which she could only take off for six hours at a day, to keep the scoliosis from worsening.
But the curvature progressed—as much as 60 degrees in one portion of the spine—to the point that Mia needed surgery. The most common scoliosis surgery, called spinal fusion, uses screws, rods, and bone grafts to straighten the spine. Recovery usually takes three months, and growth and flexibility are limited in the area of the spine where the bones are fused together.
Shortly after Mia’s diagnosis, her parents read about a doctor in Barcelona who performed vertebral body tethering (VBT). This newer, less invasive surgical technique uses a flexible cord, or tether, to pull the spine straight while the child is still growing. “It sounded like a better alternative,” Mia’s mother, Eliya, recalls.
In March 2020, the family made an appointment with Dr. Juan C. Rodriguez-Olaverri, one of the few doctors who performs VBT. Mia’s parents could see she was at ease with Dr. Rodriguez-Olaverri, so when he told the family he was moving to New York City to join NYU Langone, they knew they would travel to see him. “Mia wanted this procedure with this doctor,” Gonzalo says.
Because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the family had to overcome several challenges to fly to New York City. Mia had the VBT procedure at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital—34th Street in late July. She spent four nights in the hospital and a total of three weeks in the city before flying back home with her family.
“After surgery, my back stopped hurting, I don’t snore anymore, and I’m 2 centimeters taller now that I can stand up straight,” Mia says. “And I only have two small scars on both sides of my body that I can hide with my arms, instead of one long scar on my back.”
Mia, who was able to start walking right away after surgery, continues doing the exercises that Dr. Rodriguez-Olaverri recommended to strengthen her muscles and improve her posture. “This surgery preserved Mia’s flexibility. Mobility was so important for us,” Eliya says.
Connie’s Story About Discectomy for Herniated Lumbar Disc
“The doctor told me, ‘You deserve to be doing what you want to do, and this surgery and recovery plan will help you get there.’”
—Connie, Age 30
An avid runner and CrossFit® enthusiast, Connie was used to pushing through discomfort. So for nearly a decade after a weightlifting injury, she used yoga, massage, and chiropractor visits to manage the pain of a herniated disc in her lower back.
But after her second child was born, the pain became unbearable. “One day I just couldn’t get out of bed,” she says.
It was then that she made an appointment with Dr. Erich G. Anderer of NYU Langone’s Spine Center. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis of herniated disc, and Dr. Anderer recommended discectomy—an outpatient surgical procedure—to remove the portion of the disc that was pressing on a nerve.
After having to use a wheelchair to enter the hospital, Connie walked out the evening of the surgery. “I was a new person,” she says. Just three weeks later, she was back at the gym.
Several months after surgery, Connie is thrilled to be able to lift weights and pick up her two children again. “The fact I can do what I can right now, it’s just amazing,” she says. “I feel very healthy.”
Jenna’s Story About Anterior Scoliosis Correction Surgery
“I am so much happier with myself now, and so much more confident than I was before surgery.”
—Jenna, Age 15
Jenna, 15, a competitive dancer since the age of 8, was in fifth grade when the school nurse noticed a slight curve in her back. Her orthopedist confirmed Jenna had scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, and recommended monitoring it. But the curvature grew larger, and when it reached 50 degrees, Jenna needed scoliosis surgery to correct it.
Her mother, Danielle, was concerned that traditional scoliosis surgery, or spinal fusion, would affect Jenna’s ability to dance competitively. The surgery involves fusing bones to hold the spine in place, which can limit movement and flexibility. She also worried a large scar from the surgery would add to Jenna’s body image struggles.
“After I saw the X-ray of my spine last year, I got really self-conscious,” Jenna says. “It’s especially hard when you dance because you’re in front of a mirror for three hours in tight clothes so all you see is the shape of your body. It’s really hard when you’re not built the same as the rest of your classmates.”
Danielle looked into alternatives to spinal fusion and, through a support group on Facebook, found Dr. Juan C. Rodriguez-Olaverri. He recommended that Jenna have vertebral body tethering, a form of nonfusion surgery for early onset scoliosis that requires only one small incision under each arm. During the procedure, Dr. Olaverri secured a rope-like device, known as a tether, to Jenna’s spine to pull it into straighter alignment.
Jenna had surgery at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital—34th Street in late June 2020. “They had her up walking the next day,” Danielle says. She spent four nights in the hospital before heading home to New Jersey.
Jenna, who eased back into training, says surgery has improved her back’s alignment and had a positive impact on her dancing. “It felt very different because I have a new center of gravity,” she says. “But it felt good to know I can dance without having to overcompensate for my balance.”
She was also astonished by how straight her back looked immediately after surgery. “I was shocked at my before and after pictures,” Jenna says. “I am so much happier with myself now, and so much more confident than I was before surgery.”