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Fairfax athlete overcomes severe injury with help from Inova Fair Oaks spine doctors

Personal Best

Inova’s neurosurgery and spine experts keep a talented athlete with spinal-cord injury on the move

a runner crossing the finish line of a raceLast year, Leigh Neary achieved an impressive feat: She finished her division’s 2017 International Distance Lake Anna Triathlon. Her joy and pride – as well as the applause she received – were especially powerful considering a trauma she experienced just six months prior.

Neary, a 50-year-old Fairfax resident, had taken a fall after tripping over an extension cord and then tumbling down three wooden steps on her back deck. She was left paralyzed on the ground for approximately 10 minutes.

“It felt more like three years,” Leigh recalls. “I couldn’t feel or move my legs and arms. I was terrified.”

Within minutes Leigh was headed to the Inova Fair Oaks Hospital Emergency Department via ambulance. En route, paramedics performed stabilizing procedures including putting her in a collar to stop any motion that might cause additional or permanent injury.

Leigh received an immediate MRI scan of her neck that confirmed a bruised spinal cord. At that point she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit for further observation, pain management and consultations.

Dr. Hope“Leigh still had pain and weakness when she was discharged three days later. It wouldn’t have been safe to put the spinal cord at risk with an immediate surgery, so everyone agreed to wait,” points out Donald Hope, MD, FACS, Neurosurgery Chief at Inova Fair Oaks. “After about a month, though, it became apparent that surgery was the best solution for Leigh’s specific case.”

Surgery removes bone spurs, decompresses spinal cord

Dr. Hope performed what’s called an anterior cervical discectomy infusion, which involves surgically removing bone spurs in order to decompress the spinal cord. The surgeon describes Leigh’s recovery as “remarkable,” giving ample credit to his patient and his team. “Leigh is a talented athlete which greatly contributed to her success,” he says. “As for our spine team, we did what we do best. We brought our talents and experience together so Leigh had the best possible chance for a full recovery.”

Considering her triathlon accomplishment, it’s fair to say that Leigh is exceedingly pleased with her recovery. “The only thing I gave up is high heels,” she says.

Inova Neuroscience and Spine Institute

The Inova Fair Oaks Hospital Spine Program, an integral part of the Inova Neuroscience and Spine Institute, brings patients world-class care and treatment for back pain, neck injury, spinal cord trauma and more. One of the Spine Program’s many benefits is the driving team concept, says Dr. Hope. “Our physicians, surgeons, nurses and technicians are trained within Inova Spine Institute to work through a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach.” In this way, he adds, Inova’s spine experts are able to share a wide range of back and neck pain treatment options and focus on the specific needs of each patient.

Back pain & spine treatment in Northern Virginia

Learn more about spine conditions and Inova’s treatments at inovaspine.org.

1 Comment

  1. Louise on January 10, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    It all sounds great. I have cervical neck problems plus spurs and pinched nerve. Did not want an 8 hour surgery at my age, 92 because even though very healthy, may not be able to have all those hours under surgery. I have polyneuropathy but have done great progress with exercises, Thai chi and many other things. Have balance problems but working on it. I wonder if I should just leave it alone and eat properly and use the B vitamins.

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