UCLA gives 64-year-old Veteran (This Writer-Columnist Terry Richards) with Severe Spinal Stenosis a New Life  with State of the Art minimally invasive Decompression Spinal Surgery

by Terry Richards

UCLA Neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel C. Lu, the Physician who led my Spinal Surgery and gave me a "new life"...

UCLA Neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel C. Lu, the Physician who led my Spinal Surgery and gave me a “new life”…

Minimally invasive (Laminectomy) Decompression Surgery for Spinal Stenosis  vs.  Extremely invasive Fusion Surgery

Writer’s Note:  I was home 4-hours after UCLA’s minimally invasive Decompression Spinal Surgery and walking a ½ mile. So never get the extremely invasive Fusion Spinal Surgery first. Always try the minimally invasive Decompression Spinal Surgery first. After using LIDOCAINE PATCHES and LYRICA medications to numb the pain for about a year they no longer worked either because the pain was to intense. So since about October of 2012 and prior to Surgery on September 11, 2012 I could not stand or walk for more than 10-minutes at a time without having to sit down to rest. Now, with virtually all the shooting pain into my thigh, legs and calves, and in the Lumbar Spine gone (Other than soreness from Surgery which should heal in about 30-days or so), I feel I can walk for miles, but I will not until the soreness from the surgery itself is healed and then work up to long-distance walking, as my Surgeon, Dr. Lu has advised me to take-it-easy for the next 3-months including not picking-up anything very heavy or even moderately heavy including a Back-Pack of equal weight.

Definition of “Laminectomy”

By Mayo Clinic staff


Illustration of laminectomy<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

Laminectomy is surgery to remove the lamina — the back part of the vertebra that covers your spinal canal. Also known as decompression surgery, Laminectomy enlarges your spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

This pressure can be caused by a variety of problems, including bony overgrowths within the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) or by a herniated disk. Laminectomy is most commonly performed on the vertebrae in the lower back and in the neck.

Laminectomy is generally used only when more-conservative treatments — such as medication and physical therapy — have failed to relieve symptoms. Laminectomy also may be recommended if symptoms are severe or worsening dramatically.

In August of 2013, UCLA Neurologist Dr. Perry Shieh advised this Writer that if I did not have spinal surgery that I could be totally paralyzed as early as the next 2-years from the continued narrowing of my spinal canal from Severe Spinal Stenosis and recommended that I get a second opinion from UCLA Neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel Lu, MD, PhD. Specialty Neurological Surgery.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

After having an assessment and second-opinion of my Spinal condition by Dr. Lu who agreed with Dr. Shieh about paralysis. Dr. Lu also advised me that he wanted to try minimally invasive Decompression Spinal Surgery first and that it only had a 48-hour recovery as far as being able to return to a clerical job after the 48-hours as well as a 90% success rate, and the gut feeling of complete confidence in Dr. Lu, I asked for the soonest opening for Surgery which was September 11, 2013 (A date of my Surgery I will never forget).

I was home 4-hours after UCLA’s minimally invasive Decompression Spinal Surgery and walking a ½ mile. My instructions for recovery was other than walking at least a ¼ mile each day, not to do anything strenuous or pick up anything heavier than a coffee cup or newspaper for the first 48-hours after surgery. Those with clerical type jobs can return to work as early as 48-hours after surgery if necessary.

Compare recovery of 48-hours and just taking it easy for 3-months and able to still work a clerical job after “Decompression” Spinal Surgery which has a 90% or better success rate to recovery and physical therapy rehabilitation several times a week for at least 6-months after “Fusion” Spinal Surgery, a very invasive Surgery which only has a success rate of 50% for smokers and obese persons, and only a 70% success rate for all others.

Photo of 1-inch incision in my back just after bandage and dressing is removed 8-days after Spinal Surgery.

Photo of 1-inch incision in my back just after bandage and dressing is removed 8-days after Spinal Surgery.

My 3-hour surgery under general anesthesia was led by UCLA’s Dr. Daniel Lu and another UCLA Surgeon, et al assisting him. Only a 1-inch incision in my back was needed for this State of the Art Surgery (See Photos). Special miniature surgical tools to reach my severely damaged L-4 and L-5 Lumbar Spine to clean away and/or remove broken vertebra that were pressing against nerves in my spine which had been causing me 8-10 pain in my Lumbar Spine and shooting nerve damage pain in my thighs, legs and calves, and I was always losing my balance because my legs would go out from underneath me because of the weakness in my legs from the Spinal Stenosis cause them to “buckle” for over 3-years after a vehicle accident in May of 2010. I also had partial Scoliosis which caused me to crouch when I was walking.

Photo of CLEANED 1-inch incision in my back just after bandage and dressing is removed 8-days after Spinal Surgery.

Photo of CLEANED 1-inch incision in my back just after bandage and dressing is removed 8-days after Spinal Surgery.

After I woke up from the anesthesia I could immediately tell that the pain that was predominantly in my thighs, legs and calves were 90% or more gone. And most of the numbness I also had in my feet was also gone. The only pain I had was soreness from the incision and the surgery on the spine for which I was given Oxycodone pain medication. After less than a week I could also tell that my legs were significantly stronger than before the operation that I had virtually no more weakness in my legs and I could walk without my legs “buckling”.

Furthermore, my neighbors told me that I was no longer crouching when I was standing or walking something I did not even realize until they told me. So when I went for my follow-up appointment with Dr. Lu on September 19th, 8-days after my Surgery, and was given post-operative (post-op)  X-rays of my Spine I found out why I was no longer crouching when Dr. Lu showed me the X-rays and advised me tat the Laminectomy (and I guess other that he used-not sure) but the end result was that it also straightened-out the “curvature” of my spine which was very clear to me on the pre-op and post-op X-rays.

Thanks to UCLA and Dr. Lu, I have been given a “New Life” free from extremely severe back pain and referred pain to my legs. Dr. Lu is also one of the Surgeons who has operated on Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with Spine injuries.

UCLA accepts Medicare, Medi-Cal/Medicaid, and many other kinds of Private Insurance. 

Veterans from all “War Eras”  who do not have Medicare/Medicaid or Private Insurance should check with the VA or UCLA to see if they have arrangements with the VA for your particular kind of injuries which require Surgery and which you want done at UCLA rather than the VA that goes beyond the “Operation Mend” Program for returning IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERANS.

Click onto link to view the Credentials of Dr. Daniel Lu, and/or to make an appointment with him. http://www.uclahealth.org/body.cfm?id=479&action=detail&ref=122453


UCLA Discectomy / Microdiscectomy Animation Video  http://spinecenter.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=151

Laminectomy – Patient stories  http://spinecenter.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=44&oTopID=44

UCLA “Operation Mend” – Healing the Wounds of War


Writer’s Note:  I would be remiss as a Reporter-Columnist if I did not tell the readers of my Blog that the so-called renowned Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles advertises minimally invasive Spinal Surgery for Spinal Stenosis. But after taking X-rays and an MRI at Cedars and getting an assessment from their Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Gabriel Hunt, Dr. Hunt advised me that I was not a candidate for the minimally invasive Laminectomy Surgery and that I would have to have the extremely invasive Fusion Surgery in which the approach to my L-4 and L-5 Lumbar Spine would be performed below the belly button rather than in my back, and that a Neurosurgeon would have to make the approach just prior to Surgery. My Internet research revealed that using the below the belly-button “Anterior” approach has the potential of causing arterial and vascular nerve damage as well as damage to the intestines, among other things. After reading a story in the Los Angeles Times titled Cedars-Sinai stands out for steep pricing, for example, the average charge at Cedars-Sinai for gallbladder surgery with complications was $153,302 in 2011 compared with the U.S. median charge of $42,380, government data show, this tells the whole story because Fusion Spinal Surgery would more likely than not be equal to or greater than Gallbladder Surgery… In any event, Hunt should have proposed trying the minimally invasive Surgery first, and then if that did not work to progress to the Fusion surgery.

A study found that complex fusion surgery is risky – about three times more for life threatening complications.

According to the study, in the first 30 days following the procedure about twice as many complex fusion surgery patients had to be readmitted to the hospital than those who underwent a simple decompression procedure.

And the complex spinal fusion was almost 4 times as expensive, the study found.