Ann Allen - Scoliosis Surgery

Ann Allen, before and after scoliosis surgery photos

Ann Allen was diagnosed with scoliosis at 12 years old. She was told she had a “S” curvature of the spine which is one form of scoliosis. She saw an orthopedic specialist every year until she was in her mid-twenties. After that, she saw an orthopedic specialist every five to ten years to monitor her condition but was always told that surgery was not necessary because of she was in such good shape and the non-emergent nature of her scoliosis.

In 2016, at age 68 while living in Gulfport, Florida, Ann’s wife, Mary Winstead, noticed a change in her stance and neck position. Mary would ask, “Are you standing up straight? Are you not able to hold your neck straight?” Mary noticed that Ann’s head was angling down and she seemed to be slouching more than usual. 

Right away, Ann made an appointment with a local orthopedic surgeon Clinton Davis, MD, at All Florida Orthopaedic Associates in St. Petersburg, Florida. Dr. Davis explained that her spine was starting to twist and bend and within two years she would be in a wheelchair. She was told surgery would be necessary to prevent her from being wheelchair bound but he didn’t recommend it. She recalls being told by Dr. Davis that if she was his sister, then he would tell her not to have the surgery, but if you do, don’t go to anyone in Florida. Dr. Davis was concerned because of Ann’s age and the severity of her scoliosis. Dr. Davis mentioned he recently attended a spine conference at Washington University Medical Campus in St. Louis, MO, where Keith Bridwell, MD, a Washington University spine specialist with Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, presented spine surgery cases that were very similar to Ann’s. Ann recalls telling Dr. Davis, “Ok, I need to get an appointment with Dr. Bridwell for a second opinion. It was a no brainer to go to Barnes even being in Florida, we all knew for something like this, it’s a no brainer.”

Ann says she immediately began researching Dr. Bridwell and his credentials. With having performed over 6,000 complex spine surgeries in his career along with his extensive work in scoliosis research, Ann decided to make an appointment. In August of 2015, Ann flew to St. Louis for her consultation with Dr. Bridwell. After being evaluated by Dr. Bridwell, Ann was scheduled for surgery for the following year in October of 2016. The surgery was deliberately scheduled for a year out because she had to follow a very rigorous pre-surgery regiment to improve her bone density and conditioning and then had to pass a thorough medical exam. She was told she had developed kyphosis, which causes a large rounding or “hump” at the top of back and is due to weakness in the spinal bones that causes them to compress or crack. Ann was only given a 65% chance of improvement that the surgery would stop the kyphosis. Despite the risks Ann says, “I knew that when I met these guys I was in good hands. If I didn’t have the surgery I would have to change my life drastically. I was very optimistic and I have been lucky all my life so I knew everything would turn out.”    

Ann prided herself on being a gym rat and felt, all things considering, she had kept herself in good shape which came in very handy as she prepared for surgery. She was given exercises and had to take daily injections of Forteo for 18 months to improve her bone density. A few months before her surgery, she was informed by Dr. Bridwell that he was no longer performing surgeries as he was now switching over to a role of being a consultant. He would be transferring her case over to his colleague, Jacob Buchowski, MD, MS.  Ann admits to being nervous about the switch in surgeons, but was instantly put at ease when she met Dr. Buchowski face-to-face just a few days before the surgery. “I was so pleased with Dr. Buchowski’s credentials and his nurse Megan, I just loved her. I had nothing but adoration for both of them.” Ann says she also credits the collaborative team effort between Dr. Bridwell and Dr. Buchowski ensured her surgery and recovery would be a success. 

“Although Dr. Bridwell has recently stopped operating, an evaluation by him is invaluable as with his 30+ years of experience he is able to carefully assess the situation and determine how much one could potentially benefit from surgery,” says Dr. Buchowski. “In this, case Dr. Bridwell was able to determine the severity of the spinal deformity, what the surgery would entail, and what kind of outcome one could expect. Based both on his, as well as my evaluation, it was clear that Ann would require an operation to correct the scoliosis and kyphosis.”

With such an extensive surgery and rehabilitation time, Ann and Mary decided to rent an apartment a few blocks from Barnes-Jewish Hospital for three months. She was told she would have to have a three week and a three month post-surgery follow up with Dr. Buchowski. She wanted to stay close to her doctor and was concerned about flights back and forth from her post-op checkups. Plus, Ann had never been in the hospital before and now was having back surgery and wanted to remain close to her surgeon and the hospital.

“Ann had a substantial spinal deformity. To correct it, we had to fuse her spine from the upper thoracic spine to the tailbone/pelvis. In addition, as she had narrowing of the spinal canal, we had to take the pressure of the nerves in the lower back,” says Dr. Buchowski. Her surgery took several hours to complete but went very well with no complications.

Ann Allen, X-rays from scoliosis surgeryAnn was walking with a walker the day after surgery and she continued to walk daily for three weeks as a part of the post-surgery regiment.She says, “I never expected to encounter such crazy weather.St. Louis weather is very unpredictable. In just three weeks, I think we experienced all of the seasons.”

Three months after surgery, Ann was able to return home to Gulfport. She says that Megan, who is Dr. Buchowski’s nurse, has been amazing throughout the whole process because she was so friendly and calming from very beginning. “I was able to call and talk to Megan with any and all questions but honestly I didn’t have to do that too often because Megan was so thorough in her explanation of everything.” Ann says she was also able to connect with a friend who also had the same surgery two years prior. “Having someone who actually had the same surgery and talk you through it and help tell you what to expect was a tremendous help.”. 

At her two year checkup in September 2018, Ann was told everything was perfect. “I was straight as a spike. I am overjoyed with my results. I gained four inches in height but the biggest surprise was losing the huge hump on my back.” Ann had always worn larger clothing to hide the hump and it was never mentioned that Dr. Buchowski could alleviate it. Ann says, “I am able to wear clothing that is fitting. I have gone back to gardening. I am able to stand for three hours and now have joined a chorus. I love to paint and now can also visit art museums because I can now walk for five hours.  This surgery gave me my body and my life back. I will always be thankful to Dr. Buchowski and to Megan.”

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