Wesley Palmer, Sr. - Spinal Reconstruction


[Wesley Palmer, Sr.]: Well, it’s an interesting story. You have to do back 31 years ago. I was in Olney, Illinois. I was 19 years old, working on a water tower. I fell 120 feet. 12 stories off of a water tank. Landed feet first. Left two six-inch imprints into the ground. Destroyed everything from just below my knees down. My ankles, feet, were broken pretty severely. I had a compression fracture of L1 T12. The compression fracture allowed me to be partially paralyzed from the waist down. Not knowing if I would be able to receive movement and feeling in my lower extremities for the rest of my life. I spent the next month here going through three surgeries. About three years after the accident, in 1986, I was finished with my surgeries. Not anymore. I was done.

So then you just live your life. You work, raise your family, you do everything that normal people do. And then you fast forward to the current day. Everything in my back started falling apart. All the golf. All the extracurricular activities you’re doing, etc. There was a lot of other peripheral problems that were happening, waist down that was causing me a lot of problems. And then I was also humped over, I was bent over. I wasn’t standing up straight either. Because I was getting to that point, if I did not, if this was not dealt with, that I would probably find myself not walking too much further. At that time I was here doing, on a vacation last year in St. Louis visiting my parents. They live here locally in Missouri. And it was that day that my legs went out. And I could not feel my legs. I couldn’t feel my feet. I had tremendous pain suffering, shooting all the way down in my legs I had to have help to walk. Things just weren’t good. And my mother said, this is not gonna happen. This is not right. We’re getting you to the hospital.

So they took me to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Washington University Orthopedics. Also knowing that Barnes-Jewish is highly recommended and very high specialty with regards to this. So I came, was admitted into the emergency room because of the problems that I was having. I knew and overheard rumblings and rumors that Dr. Munish Gupta was located somewhere here in Missouri, mid-Missouri in St. Louis. So I asked them here at the hospital if Dr. Gupta was here and they said that he was and I asked them if they would get him for me. I trusted the work that he does, obviously. And when I first came here 30 years ago, I had a phenomenal surgeon work on me in St. Louis 30 years ago. And it was just a blessing to be able to have another phenomenal great surgeon to be able to work on me again to put me back. Well, he looked at me and he said, yes, you have some problems. We will fix you. So all of my whole lumbar vertebrae were worn out. They couldn’t take it any longer. My spinal cord was just being pinched all the way down, hence, not being able to feel my legs or my feet. I could not travel back to Utah, because of what, I couldn’t feel my legs. And this needed to be decompressed immediately so this could be taken care of. I had a 10-hour procedure done by Dr. Gupta and the staff here at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. And they reconstructed my spine.

[Munish Gupta, MD]: So, Wesley is not new to spine. So he knew what was going to be involved. And I think in some ways he kind of waited and waited a little bit longer than some people may have because he knows what’s involved and he knows how big the surgery is. But at this point, at this point in time when he was in such big trouble, he knew what was involved. Over the last 30 years, he developed a lot of degeneration in the lower part of his lumbar spine. And what happens is, all that degenerative parts of your spine encroach on the nerves. And eventually create leg pain from compression of the nerves. And whenever you have an old fusion, there’s a lot of transitional degeneration. And that’s what happened to him over the last 30 years, just using your spine and living degenerates those areas. And we see that in patients with scoliosis that have Harrington rods long time ago and come with stenosis and deformity below. So he had that leaning posture. He had that stenosis and he had lost his function now. And it was time to take the pressure off the nerves.  And then also stabilize him and correct his posture. So we did all that. And when he came to Barnes-Jewish Hospital and me working at Washington University, it’s fortunate that we met and we have such a huge spine team here and it’s one of the top spine programs in the country. And it’s well-known around the world.

So we have a large team of spine surgeons. And for every spine surgeon, there’s a big staff supporting them, in terms of nurses and medical assistants and research assistants, that it makes it possible to take care of patients like him with large spine surgery that’s needed to correct and, their condition. Because surviving a 120-foot fall is not easy. And he survived it and he’s very brave. And not only did he survive it, he thrived.

[Wesley Palmer, Sr.]: I have no leg problems. I have no numbness in my legs, nor my feet. I don’t have any back fatigue any longer. And I stand straight.  I walk straight. And I just feel great. I’m grateful for what Barnes-Jewish did for me here with regards to the staff, the nursing staff from the operating room to the emergency room from the recovery. I can’t tell you any of a greater organization than this was for me. They were professional, they were nice, they were kind, they were sympathetic, they were just wonderful people.

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