Jennifer Fraczkiewicz Taylor is always on the go. Between activities with family and friends, traveling, a range of hobbies that include training for triathlons and half-marathons, and her full-time work as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, Jennifer isn’t one to sit still. But a spine injury changed everything, derailing her quality of life for years – until Jennifer had spine surgery at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital.
When Jennifer was just 29 years old, she was in a minor car accident. She walked away feeling fine that day, but when she bent down to retrieve some laundry from her dryer the next day, she couldn’t straighten back up. She had a herniated disc in her spine.
The body’s spinal discs function as shock absorbers, enabling the spine to bend, flex, and twist. When a disc is damaged (as when it herniates), it can irritate and inflame the nerves traveling through the spine, causing shooting pain in the back and legs. Without treatment, the pain tends to get worse over time.
For the next seven years, Jennifer dealt with pain every day. She had regular physical therapy sessions, cortisone injections every three months, visits to a chiropractor, and daily medication for inflammation and nerve pain. She consulted with a surgeon at age 32, but she wasn’t ready to have back surgery.
“In my mind, I was too young to have to go through back surgery,” Jennifer remembered. “I had just started a new job also.”
By the time she was 35, the injections weren’t working well anymore, and she was frequently in so much pain that it was difficult to walk. In 2020, she met with orthopedic surgeon Christopher Silveri, MD, Co-Medical Director of the Inova Spine Program at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, which has been certified as a spine center of excellence by The Joint Commission for the last 12 years, to discuss her options.
“I followed her for a year before the operation. That’s what you need to do to give the patient the best opportunity to get better without surgery, because many times back and leg pain will improve with a multidisciplinary approach to conservative care, rehabilitation, proper physical therapy, adjustment in body mechanics, posture and activities of daily living,” Dr. Silveri said. “Unfortunately, Jennifer had considerable chronic back pain in addition to leg pain, which proved refractory to non-operative care, and eventually became intolerable.”
Jennifer knew she needed surgery. What she wasn’t sure about was how to fit surgery and recovery into her busy life – she was getting married in October. Typically, a person with Jennifer’s level of spine injury would have to undergo a spinal decompression and fusion, which requires a longer recovery and results in a less mobile spine. But because Jennifer was such a young and active person, Dr. Silveri recommended a more efficient procedure, known as an anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF). Dr. Silveri also worked with Jennifer to help her manage her symptoms so that she could wait to have surgery until after the wedding. During this time ,Dr. Silveri focused on determining the anatomical pain generators responsible for her chronic symptoms.
“An ALIF is a less invasive option that, in Jennifer’s case, would be as effective as a traditional posterior fusion but with less damage to the muscles and soft tissues in the back,” Dr. Silveri explained. “An ALIF allows us to remove the offending discs and restore the anatomy to its proper alignment and spacing, resulting in elevating the disc space to its normal height and providing decompression of the foramina which allows for more room for the nerve.”
In January 2021, Jennifer underwent a successful two level minimally invasive ALIF surgery at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, part of the Inova Spine Program. The Inova Spine program is Northern Virginia’s leading spine surgery program, combining the latest technology, experts with decades of experience and unmatched expertise, and comprehensive support services including dedicated patient navigators, a range of nonsurgical treatments and innovative pain management options.
“The minute I woke up from surgery, my nerve pain was gone. All my spine pain was gone instantly,” Jennifer said. “I was in the hospital bed saying, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’”
While she was in the hospital, she worked with Inova’s physical and occupational therapy team to learn how to walk, tie her shoes, get out of bed, and manage at home without lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds. “I was very pleased with the care of Dr. Silveri and his team, including his advanced practice provider, the nurses, and the therapists. Everyone was extremely thorough and on top of things,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer went home the day after surgery, and she was moving around normally within two to four weeks. Today, she is happy to report that she no longer needs medication. “I might take an ibuprofen once a month now,” she said.
Jennifer’s advice to others who are dealing with chronic back pain but have been putting off surgery?
Just do it. “Tomorrow is not guaranteed, and your quality of life is so important,” she said. “I put my quality of life on the backburner. I spent way too many days in pain when I should have spent it living.” Thanks to a successful spine surgery, Jennifer is back to doing exactly that: living her life to the fullest.
To learn more about Inova’s Spine Program at Inova Neurosciences, visit inovaspine.org.