The WellSpan Spotlight

Health and wellness

Goodbye back pain, hello normal life

Goodbye back pain, hello normal life

Meet Carol Miller. 

Carol Miller likes to keep her house as neat as a pin, shop with her daughters, run around with her husband, Pete, and spoil her cat, Danny Boy. But the 82-year-old York woman's normal life screeched to a halt this fall when she started having back problems. 

"I just started having terrific pain," she says. "I couldn't stand up. I couldn't walk. I couldn't lie down and sleep in a bed." 

Hunched over, in constant agony, Carol started using a walker. She slept in a lounge chair at night. She stopped leaving her house. Pain became her world. 

She tried physical therapy and medication. Nothing helped. Was this how she was going to spend the rest of her days? 

Meet Carol's WellSpan "miracle doctor." 

WellSpan neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Molenda ordered some tests and diagnosed the causes of Carol's back pain, a malady that becomes increasingly common as we age and can disrupt a person's life. In fact, lower back pain causes more disability globally than any other condition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

Tests showed that Carol had stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces in her spine that puts pressure on the nerves. She also had a bulging disk. Disks, small cushions between the vertebrae in your spine, can deteriorate, causing the outer edge of the disk to bulge outward and compress nerves in the back. 

"I knew I could help Carol and I wanted to relieve the terrible pain she was in," Molenda said. "She was a great candidate for the modern surgical techniques we are now using to treat back pain." 

Learn about the advanced neurosurgery used to treat Carol's back pain. 

Done through a small incision, minimally invasive surgery causes less blood loss, less damage to muscles and tissue, and less use of painkillers afterward, compared to traditional open surgery. For spine surgery patients, it is a particularly attractive option for getting people back on their feet faster. Molenda and other WellSpan neurosurgeons in York and Chambersburg perform this type of procedure for patients. 

"For appropriate patients, minimally invasive surgery is a great choice," Molenda said. "They recuperate quickly and can go home usually after just one night in the hospital." 

Dr. Molenda did two procedures during Carol's minimally invasive surgery: a laminectomy, during which he removed a piece of bone that was pressing on the nerve in Carol's back; and a discectomy, during which he removed a bulging disk. He also can perform minimally invasive spinal fusions, during which he joins together bones in the back to stabilize the spine. 

Hear what happened to Carol after her surgery. 

"As soon as I woke up, they asked me how much pain I was in," Carol recalls. "I said, 'I don't have any!' I was very surprised. So was my family. They call Dr. Molenda 'the miracle doctor.' Believe me, I was relieved." 

Carol's daughter, Carla Sipe, was with her mom in WellSpan York Hospital room when a nurse came to take her mom for her first walk following surgery. Unsure what to expect, and not wanting to project her worry onto her mom, Carla decided to wait in the room during the walk. 

She waited. And waited. And waited. 

"She started walking and kept going and going and going," says a delighted Carla. "She was walking all over the place!" 

Carol went home with just a Band-Aid on her incision. She did not need physical therapy. She could stand straight up again. She got rid of the walker. She started driving, doing her own grocery shopping, and sleeping in a bed again. Earlier this year, she and her husband went to a steak restaurant to celebrate their 45th anniversary. She started her spring cleaning when there was still snow on the ground. Danny Boy is back to getting his regular cuddles. 

"Oh my golly," she says. "It's so good to feel normal again." 

Learn more about our advanced neurosurgery programs here.