Happy Camper

One-hour surgical procedure relieves neck, shoulder and arm pain.

Given her choice, Gina Thomsen would rather spend a cool fall or winter evening warming herself by a campfire than cozying up near an indoor fireplace. She’s an outdoorsy type who appreciates all nature has to offer.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Gina Thomsen

“I love being outdoors and traveling to different places where you can go hiking, kayaking and things like that,” Gina says. “As far as camping goes, I never really did that until I was in my 30s, but I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Gina, 57, first caught the camping bug while living in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod. She’s also camped in Rhode Island and now lists Fort De Soto Park and Oscar Scherer State Park as two of her favorites places to camp in Florida.

Her passion for camping and outdoor activities is so great that for about 15 years she fought through aggravating neck, shoulder and arm pain to do it, because her efforts to find relief were long met by doctors offering the same unacceptable fix.

“When this first started, I went to all kinds of doctors up in New England and they all said the same thing: that I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and that there’s nothing they can do for me except give me oxycodone,” Gina says.

“Well, I refuse to take pain pills; I’m just not going to go there. So, for years I dealt with it the best I could. After a while, though, it got to the point where by 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon I couldn’t use my arms or hands. They were so sore and weak that it affected everything I wanted to do. I couldn’t make dinner at night or feed my dogs. When I went to bed, my hands and feet would go numb.The situation was out of control.”

Gina moved to Florida in the midst of her struggles, which forced her to stop working for a while. Then, last year, she went for a massage thinking that might provide some relief. Her masseuse told her she had a back problem and suggested she see a chiropractor.

After x-rays revealed damage to two of Gina’s cervical discs, the chiropractor recommended surgery. Before agreeing to surgery, however, Gina sought a second opinion from Gregory P. Gebauer, MD, at Advanced Orthopedic Center.

“My boyfriend is friends with one of the doctors at Advanced Orthopedic Center, and he kept suggesting that I visit them, so I finally did,” Gina says. “I made an appointment with their spine doctor, and I’m glad I did.”

Root Cause Corrected

Gina first visited Dr. Gebauer in January, when an MRI was ordered to better gauge the cause of her discomfort. That MRI revealed significant degeneration of two cervical discs in her lower neck.

“We discussed doing steroid injections just to see if that might relieve some of the inflammation and calm things down a bit,” Dr. Gebauer reports. “That wasn’t going to fix the problem, though, so Gina decided to go ahead with surgery.”

The COVID-19 outbreak forced Dr. Gebauer to wait until May to perform that surgery, a procedure known clinically as anterior cervical decompression and fusion, or ACDF.

Performed through a small incision in the throat, an ACDF requires the surgeon to move the windpipe to one side and remove the worn-out discs.

“I no longer get worn out by the afternoon the way I used to, and I can function like me again.” – Gina

That alleviates the pressure on the pinched nerves causing the discomfort.

Once the discs are removed, a piece of donated cadaver bone is put in their place. The cadaver bone acts like a car jack, Dr. Gebauer says, further opening the space between the discs where the nerves rest. That permanently alleviates the pressure on the nerves.

The final step is the placement of a small titanium plate that is screwed into place to hold everything together. The plate acts as an internal brace that holds the bones in place so they can heal properly.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Gina’s surgery has allowed her to resume her active lifestyle.

3ê“It’s a pretty straightforward procedure that takes about an hour,” Dr. Gebauer says. “And while Gina chose to have it done in the hospital, it can be done on an outpatient basis where the patient can go home shortly afterward.”

Gina has been home for a few months and, while still in the recovery phase, her pain, discomfort and weakness have been eliminated and she has regained regular use of her arms, even in the late afternoon.

“I no longer get worn out by the afternoon the way I used to,” Gina says. “I can function like me again. I can do whatever I want now without pain, so I’m back to paddle boarding and bicycling. I’ve even gone back to work.

“Having the surgery was the best move I could have made, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to meet Dr. Gebauer and have the surgery done by him. He’s a very good doctor, and he explained everything that I needed to know about it.

“I like that he gave me options. Surgery wasn’t the only treatment he suggested. I went with the surgery because I talked to a lot of people who have had spine surgery done by him, and they all said he is just wonderful, so he has a great reputation.

“I felt very comfortable seeing him, and I definitely recommend him to anyone who has the same kind of problem I had.”

 

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    • Advanced Orthopedic Center

      Whether you are a professional or collegiate athlete, an active retiree, a "weekend warrior," a high school football star or a hard-working employee anxious to make a difference, the Advanced Orthopedic Center is here to help you feel better a... Read More

    • Gregory P. Gebauer, MD

      Gregory P. Gebauer, MD, is a Board Eligible Orthopedic Spine Surgeon. He joined Advanced Orthopedic Center in August, 2010. He is a fellowship trained spine surgeon who specializes in operative and non-operative treatment of spinal disorders a... Read More