June 15, 2021
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 wasn't necessary as she was in such good shape and the nature of her scoliosis was non-emergent.
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, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Dr. Davis explained that her spine was starting to twist and bend she soon may be in a wheelchair. Ann was told surgery would be necessary to prevent her from being wheelchair bound, and that if chose to move forward with surgery, she should see a renowned expert.
Dr. Davis mentioned he recently attended a spine conference at Washington University 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 immediately began researching Dr. Bridwell and learned he had performed over 6,000 complex spine surgeries in his career and contributed extensive work in scoliosis research. She decided to make an appointment. In August of 2015, Ann flew to St. Louis for her consultation with Dr. Bridwell.
After her evaluation, Ann's surgery was scheduled for the following year, in October of 2016. The delay was necessary to allow for a rigorous pre-surgery regiment to improve her bone density and conditioning. Ann had developed kyphosis, which causes a large rounding or hump at the top of back. Kyphosis is due to weakness in the spinal bones that causes them to compress or crack. Ann was told there was a 65% chance that surgery would stop the kyphosis. Despite the risks, Ann says, “I knew when I met these guys that 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.”
New Faces, Same Trusted Care
Over the course of the year, Ann's care was transferred to Dr. Bridwell's partner, Jacob Buchowski, MD, MS. Nervous about the switch at first, Ann was instantly at ease when she met Dr. Buchowski. “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 for ensuring her surgery and recovery would be a success.
“Although Dr. Bridwell has recently stopped operating, an evaluation by him is invaluable. He has 30+ years of experience and 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 and 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 wanted to stay close to her doctor and hospital, and was concerned about commuting with flights back and forth.
“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 off the nerves in the lower back,” says Dr. Buchowski. Her surgery took several hours to complete but went very well with no complications.
Ann was walking with a walker the day after surgery, and continued to walk daily for three weeks as a part of her 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, Dr. Buchowski’s nurse, was 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 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 to 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. 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 Megan.”