Back In The Game
Date: October 7, 2013
Spine surgery restores college athlete’s ability
Life was good for college student Katie Drudy. She enjoyed her freshman year playing field hockey and studying social work and sign language at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania. Leg and back pain sometimes kept her up at night and limited her movement on the field, yet Drudy played through it.
As field hockey season kicked off in her sophomore year, she could not finish a half-mile run drill during practice one day. The pain and tightness were too much. Her coaches were concerned. “I was taking medicine, using heat and ice, and working with athletic trainers,” remembers Drudy. “A local doctor recommended a back brace, rest and physical therapy, but I still had pain. Even epidural injections in my back didn’t help. I tried it all.”
Walking and bending over to pick things up were hard and painful for Drudy. “I wanted to be a normal 19-year-old again,” she says.
A Complex Diagnosis
A family friend and employee of Johns Hopkins Bayview suggested Drudy see Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ali Bydon, M.D. Drudy first met Dr. Bydon in December 2012, and was impressed by the way he cared for her as a person, not just a patient. “He thought I was tough, and he wanted to know about me and my life,” she says.
Dr. Bydon diagnosed Drudy with multiple problems: Pars defect (fracture in the lower spine), malalignment of vertebrae and significant compression on nerve roots. He recommended a complex surgery to fix her spine and help her back and leg pain. Drudy agreed that surgery was her best option.
Dr. Bydon and his team worked to plan Drudy’s surgery over her winter break so that she would not miss too much time at college. During the five-hour surgery, he performed multiple procedures including a lumbar laminectomy (removal of a small piece of bone to widen the spinal canal), complete discectomy (removal of herniated disc material), decompression of nerve roots, and spinal fusion (permanently joining vertebrae using screws). Dr. Bydon knew this case was a challenge because the degree of compression on the nerve roots was significant, and he had to be careful not to damage nerves or cause weakness.
Right Tools, Supportive People
“Using an intraoperative CT scanner during the procedure allowed me to see that we had placed the screws in precisely the right place,” says Dr. Bydon. “I also used neuro-monitoring as a tool to observe the nerves and make sure they were not too irritated by the new position of the spine. This monitoring is another safeguard mechanism,” he adds.
Drudy says, “Before the surgery, I was nervous, and the nurses could tell. They were comforting and made sure I knew what was going on.”
The surgery was successful. Drudy spent a few days at Johns Hopkins Bayview and then headed home to York, Pennsylvania. “While I was in the hospital, the physical therapists and occupational therapists were really helpful and patient with my progress. They were interested in me and talked to me personally,” she adds. “I felt at home.”
Back to School
Drudy returned to college for her sophomore spring semester in January 2013. Her recovery is going well, and she is easing back into life as a student athlete. “I just listen to my body,” she says. Seven months after the surgery, she runs on a track a few times a week, and uses an elliptical machine or stationary bicycle at the gym. Drudy adds, “I’m getting back into partial games of field hockey as my junior year starts, and I’m happy just to be able to play.”
Dr. Bydon says, “It’s unbelievable that someone can have this huge surgery and not miss a whole semester. Now, she can focus on school and athletics instead of devastating leg pain.”
Drudy offers advice for others considering spine surgery. “Go through all your options and don’t rush in. Feel comfortable with your surgeon. Get a second opinion. The recovery may be frustrating, but it’s worth it.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment at the Spine Center, call 410-550-0465 or visit hopkinsmedicine.org/johns_hopkins_bayview/medical_services/specialty_care/neurosurgery/spine_program.