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New Year, New Lease on Life for Illinois Woman with Broken Back

Feb 09, 2011

13-hour, complex spine surgery leaves her standing tall

For more information, contact:
Karyn Odway
CyanPoint Communications
karyn@cyanpoint.com
(312) 479-1271

For more information about Weiss, contact:
Catherin Gianaro
cgianaro@weisshospital.com
(773) 564-7285

CHICAGO—Feb. 9, 2011—After more than 20 years of extreme back pain and multiple surgeries, it was a 13-hour operation on her spine that finally has this 39-year-old woman from Central Illinois standing three inches taller.

“I have a new beginning,” said Jennifer Molina, of Marseilles, who initially suffered a burst fracture in her spine following a cliff diving accident when she was 17. She was paralyzed from the waist down. Eventually, she regained her ability to walk and even had a baby a few years following the accident. But over the years, she endured five surgeries to repair her spine, including lumbar surgery. She also had Cotrell-Dubousset (CD) rods in her thoracic spine and other instrumentation implanted to help realign her vertebrae. Still, the pain persisted, and she developed complications from her original injury: spinal stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spinal cord and the spinal nerve roots causing pain; and kyphosis, a curving of the spine that causes a person to hunch over.

Before and after surgery X-rays

Before and after surgery X-rays (front and side views) of Jennifer Molina’s spine. The Marseilles resident underwent a 13-hour spine surgery in November to correct back problems that she endured for more than half her life.

Molina said she easily tired, often felt off-balance and couldn’t bend, lift or twist because of her back injuries and scar tissue. She said her ability to work was limited, and she was unable to do much of the housework.

“Not only was she in pain, but she also hunched forward and leaned to the right side, which made it difficult for her to stand upright,” said Purnendu Gupta, M.D., medical director of the Chicago Spine Center, a program of the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital; and associate professor of surgery in orthopedics and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Chicago. “It affected her daily activities and quality of life.”

After an initial exam, X-rays, blood tests and a pulmonary evaluation, Dr. Gupta studied the “puzzle” before him and determined how to best put the pieces of Molina’s spine in their proper place. Dr. Gupta, along with his multidisciplinary medical team, used special operative techniques to perform the complex spine correction procedure, known as an osteotomy, which included cutting bone to put the curve back into her lower back and to straighten up her kyphosis in the upper back. Dr. Gupta removed much of the old instrumentation and inserted new rods, screws, local bone and cadaver bone to support her back from her neck to her waist.

Dr. Gupta and patient look at kyphosis

Purnendu Gupta, M.D., medical director of the Chicago Spine Center, a program of the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital, points out kyphosis on the X-ray of Jennifer Molina, a Marseilles woman who underwent a 13-hour spine surgery in November to correct back problems, including her hunched over affect, that she endured for more than half her life.

Following a successful surgery, Molina now wears a hard plastic shell brace and maintains a rigorous physical therapy schedule as she recovers. Each week she increases the distance she’s able to walk, strengthening muscles that help to support her back. A bone stimulator also helps to promote bone growth in the affected areas. Full recovery is expected to take 12 months.

Her pain has subsided and she gained three inches in height as a result of the spine straightening surgery. “She can now stand up to me,” Rodney Molina, her husband of 20 years, said with a smile.

Standing upright for the first time in years, Molina said she now feels like she can get on with her life. Her first goal is to walk without a cane at her son’s college graduation ceremony in April. And then it’s on to getting her own higher education to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. “I feel very blessed,” Molina said. “I’m a walking miracle because of Dr. Gupta.”

Chicago Spine Center team

Jennifer Molina of Marseilles (middle) smiles with her spine team at the Chicago Spine Center, a program of the Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital—Laura Ruszkowski, R.N. (left) and Purnendu Gupta, M.D. (right)—as she explains her recovery process following a 13-hour operation to correct back problems that she endured for more than half her life.