Patient returns to water skiing after spine surgery for pinched nerve



Stephanie Byrd is an avid boater. She loves wake boarding, water skiing and jet skiing. Her love for water skiing began at the age of two. Her summers are centered on heading to Goose Creek and getting on the water as soon as possible. 

That all started to change around 4 years ago when she started experiencing headaches that would get so bad they made her nauseous. Then she began having pains shooting down her arms and across her shoulders. Soon she was having random numbness in her hands and couldn’t grip items. She recalls dropping her cell phone and going through a lot of phones that year.  

During the summer of 2016, she became very discouraged. She found herself questioning whether she would be able to pull herself up out of the water or would she be able to keep hold of the rope. “I no longer felt like I could trust my own body and if it would operate properly. If I would end up doing something to hurt myself worse.” 

Byrd says, “I saw my general practitioner so many times and felt like I was not getting anywhere. I wasn’t able to make anyone understand that something was very seriously wrong.” She had several x-rays and went through several rounds of physical therapy and taking pain medication daily. “It was a constant battle. I was getting depressed. I was not able to be active and started eating and began gaining weight. I was very emotional and desperate to find answers and a solution.” 

Finding a solution for debilitating headaches, nerve pain and loss of hand function

She recalls her first step to finally getting some answers was an appointment with Adam LaBore, MD, a Washington University Orthopedic Physiatrist with Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Dr. LaBore specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and focuses on conservative care for musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. Byrd says, “Dr. LaBore was so great. He suggested a cortisone shot and said this will not be a permanent fix but it will give you some relief while we troubleshoot and find the cause.” The shot gave some relief but for a very short time. After a second injection and the results of her MRI were reviewed by Dr. LaBore, Byrd was referred to Dr. LaBore’s colleague Lukas Zebala, MD, a spine specialist also with Washington University Orthopedics at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital in Creve Coeur.  

Byrd says, “Dr. Zebala was an absolute pleasure. He was very matter of fact. He very specifically explained to me where the problem originated, what its causing, what it will eventually cause and what he recommended. I was very emotional and I needed a doctor that would not cater to my emotions but give me answers. It was such a relief to actually have a possible solution.” 

“Stephanie was in obvious pain from a pinched nerve in her neck. I could clearly see how this condition had dramatically changed her quality of life. I was very happy that Stephanie came to my office because I knew that I could fix her problem and restore her quality of life,” said Dr. Zebala.

Stephanie scheduled her surgery a month or two out to prepare for being off of work for the six to eight weeks. “I was absolutely terrified. I had never had surgery and now was having spine surgery,” says Byrd.  She did her presurgery exercises religiously to ensure her throat was malleable and to help with post-surgery soreness. Byrd says, “I’ll admit I had a little freak out the day of the surgery and ended up falling asleep as I was being wheeled back. I remember waking up and being told the surgery went great and being shocked and asking the surgery is done?”   

Byrd says her recovery was so much easier than expected. “I was very leery about taking the pain medication and was again put at ease by Dr. Zebala. He went through every medication thoroughly and explained why he was prescribing each and every pill. He told me don’t try be a hero and not take the medication. Managing the pain post-surgery is the only goal. Soon you will be off all pain medications.” Byrd says she was diligent on taking her medication and realized that by following Dr. Zebala’s orders, she was able to sleep and rest which allowed her body to heal completely.

Spine surgery restores quality of life

Back to enjoying life after a pinched nerveByrd was able to return to work after six weeks post-op and recalls the day that she was fully released from Dr. Zebala’s care. She remembers her and her husband hugging and both saying it’s finally over. Byrd says she won’t forget Dr. Zebala’s smile that day, “He was as excited about the results of my surgery as I was. He was genuinely thrilled with my results and invested in my health. He looked as happy as I felt.” 

“Great patients like Stephanie is what gets me excited about the work I have the privilege of doing each day. By working at a great university and with excellent colleagues, like Dr. LaBore, I am able to provide state of the art treatment options to my patients and get them pain free and back to their lives.”

Eight weeks post-op, Byrd was finally able to get back to the water. Byrd says she wasn’t physically ready to get back on the skis just yet. “That first boat ride after surgery was the best boat ride of my life. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders — well, neck,” she says will a laugh.

Byrd used the winter of 2016 to get her body prepared for the next boating season and was determined to not miss another one. She dropped the 30 pounds she had gained and was working out regularly to get back the strength she has lost. Byrd recalls her first time out on the water after her surgery. “The feeling of being behind the boat at a high rate of speed and my body working the way it’s supposed to, maybe even better than it ever had, was one of the most exhilarating experiences.” Byrd was overjoyed to be able to ski with confidence and skill that she hadn’t had in years. Byrd says, “This surgery got me back to my life, but it’s even better now.” 

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