According to the National Institutes of Health website, back pain will affect eight out of ten people at some point during their lives. When this common medical problem becomes chronic, many sufferers find the quality of their lives jeopardized.  Paul W. Kelley, 60, a retired commander of the Maryland State Police Centreville barracks and 1990 Maryland State Police Trooper of the Year, suffered many back injuries during his career as well as outside his career. Treatment involved many surgeries, shots and pain management. Eventually nothing worked, and Kelley found himself so debilitated that he faced life in a wheelchair. Kelley, a native of Kent County, MD, now operates Kelley Investigative Security Services, so for a man who had led an active physical life on and off the job, this prognosis was devastating.

“I was at a crossroads in my life,” Kelley said. “I was walking with a walker and sometimes needed help to get out of bed in addition to getting in and out of my vehicle, standing, and even simple walking movements required help from another.” When Kelley faced another surgery, his physician of many years wanted him to get a second opinion and to have any additional questions answered so that Kelley was clear about his surgical options. He sent Kelley to Khalid H. Kurtom, MD, FAANS, FACS, Neurosurgeon with the University of Maryland Community Medical Group-Neurosurgery in Easton, and Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine. Kelley said Dr. Kurtom told him, “I can fix you.”

“Mr. Kelley had multiple back operations that resulted in extensive scar tissue and spinal instability,” Dr. Kurtom explained.  “He needed decompression of his nerves, realignment of his spine and fusion.”

“Dr. Kurtom told me I had excellent muscle tone and was otherwise in perfect health,” Kelley said, “so I needed to get this surgery done.”

“Unfortunately there are many people that are in the same predicament as Mr. Kelley,” Dr. Kurtom said, “desperate for answers, and rightfully pessimistic about their chances of having a normal life after many unsuccessful surgeries. Their pain forces them into deep depression and an ominous view of the future. Unfortunately I see many of these patients in my practice as the second, third or even fourth opinion. These patients think of me as their last resort.”

Dr. Kurtom recommended a minimally invasive surgical approach: “A technique,” he said, “that very few surgeons utilize. Minimally invasive spine surgery continues to gain notoriety due to the exceptional postoperative outcomes, minimal intraoperative blood loss, limited hospital stay and minimal complications. Despite its popularity with patients, surgeons have not widely adopted the techniques given the steep learning curve and complexity of the procedures. Patients oftentimes travel great distances to receive care from surgeons performing these operations. My hope is that the next generation of spine surgeons are more adaptable to using these techniques.”

In a letter Kelley wrote to Dr. Kurtom several months after his surgery, he described Dr. Kurtom’s explanation of the best treatment for him as “concise” and without hesitation that it would be the “best avenue of treatment” for his current debilitating way of life.  Kelley wrote, “Upon meeting you, I was impressed with your quiet and professional demeanor, and felt within my heart that you were the surgeon who could and would give me back a way of life that I once enjoyed.”

Surgery was scheduled, but before it could occur, Kelley’s mother passed away suddenly. Four days after her funeral, on April 14, 2015, Kelley went into the UM Shore Medical Center at Easton for surgery. At the hospital, Dr. Kurtom asked Kelley if he’d like to postpone the surgery for a week or two, since he was overcome with grief from the loss of his mother. In his letter Kelley wrote that Dr. Kurtom assured him that the surgery would be successful, but it required his “full support, attention and compliance.” Kelley considered Dr. Kurtom’s offer to reschedule the surgery, and then he thought about what his mother would have done: “Have the surgery now,” Kelley told Dr. Kurtom.

Patients often remark on Dr. Kurtom’s compassion and empathy, and Kelley’s experience was no exception. “Provider/patient relationship is vital to the success of any treatment,” said Dr. Kurtom. “Fostering that relationship and caring for the patient as a whole cannot be understated. A patient that is mourning the passing of a loved one may not be in the right mind frame to recover from surgery. Having empathy and compassion for our patients is an innate behavior that I hope every provider has. I know that I am not the exception, and I hope I represent the majority.”

Another aspect of the patient/provider relationship occurred before the surgery began. Dr. Kurtom introduced each member of the surgical team to Kelley, and each one explained what he or she would be doing as part of the procedure. “The neurosurgery team is a dedicated group of individuals who provide care to our patients,” Dr. Kurtom said. “This is a large team and each member has a specific role in the treatment process. Patients are comforted to meet every individual participating in their care; their treatment becomes more personal as a result. Similarly, our team members take extreme pride in their role in helping each patient and in getting direct feedback from the patients. As a result, the team members get a sense of ownership and connection with each patient. This puts it all in perspective and makes the big picture crystal clear, emphasizing our mission: Our team is dedicated to providing compassionate and exceptional care to our patients.”

Kelley agreed, “He shows compassion toward his patients. He introduced his whole team, and then he held my hand until the anesthesia took over. He is an expert at what he does.”

Hours after the surgery when Kelley awakened in recovery, he was amazed that the chronic pain he had suffered for so long was gone, and the feeling in his legs was returning. Early the next morning Dr. Kurtom came into his room and announced, “We’re going for a walk,” and then they proceeded to walk throughout the hospital. By 10 AM Dr. Kurtom discharged Kelley, who drove himself home. At home Kelley followed Dr. Kurtom’s directions to rest for 45 minutes and to walk for 15 minutes. He commented, “I had no setbacks, no pain and the feeling came back into my legs. Two or three weeks after surgery I was walking two-three miles a day, bicycling for eight-ten miles every other day, and on weekends cycling for 20 miles. After a couple of weeks I used no pain medications. I no longer needed injections or pain management.”

Kelley’s quick recovery is another example of the efficacy of minimally invasive spine surgery. “Through minimal invasive spine surgery, the same surgical goals can be achieved with minimal tissue destruction,” Dr. Kurtom said. “This includes neural decompression, fusion, spinal realignment, and fracture fixation, to name a few. Minimally invasive spine surgery is accomplished with small incisions, minimal tissue damage, less blood loss, lower infection rate, shorter operative time, less surgical wound complications, shorter length of stay, faster recovery and return to work. On average, patients are released for full work duty without any limitations on activity within two weeks postoperatively.”

“I now can bend over, touch my toes, and without assistance do the simple things in life I’d taken for granted,” Kelley said. “I’m unrestricted in what I do, but I’m careful. I’m not 18 anymore, and I have to remember that.“ His recovery was so successful that he spent the first week in February 2016 in Colorado skiing in the Rocky Mountains. “I give thanks for all of this to Dr. Kurtom for having faith in me and for giving me my life back.”

“I am glad that in this case I was able to help and get Mr. Kelley back to his life,” Dr. Kurtom said. “He is a great person, and I am truly glad that he is able to enjoy his life again. I am a very conservative surgeon and more commonly recommend conservative management over surgical intervention. Surgery is reserved for patients with a clear diagnosis that have failed maximal conservative management and are no longer able to function due to their current condition. Surgery is an absolute last resort. Mr. Kelley’s experience after surgery is what should be expected in patients that meet the criteria and undergo surgical intervention. The outcome is both related to strict selection criteria as well as the minimally invasive approaches/technical aspect.”

In his letter, along with accolades for Dr. Kurtom, Kelley praised Dr. Kurtom’s office staff as “wonderful, caring and compassionate.”

“Compassion and caring for the patient are intimately connected,” Dr. Kurtom said. “We can’t do our job on any level without having compassion for our patients. We put it in our mission statement for a reason; we believe in it and live by it. Taking care of patients with these complex issues and providing exceptional care is extremely difficult, physically and emotionally draining, especially at the high volumes that we experience. For that reason, when patients like Mr. Kelley take the time to give us generous feedback, we most appreciate it. We are fortunate in that many of our patients do this, showing their gratitude. This helps us stay motivated and focused on our mission every day.”

Khalid H. Kurtom, MD, FAANS, FACS, sees patients at the Easton location of the University of Maryland Community Medical Group-Neurosurgery, located at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Pavilion at Easton, Suite 103, 490 Cadmus Lane. UM Community Medical Group is a multi-hospital, multi-specialty network of University of Maryland Medical System providers all serving the people of Maryland. A member of the Medical Staff at UM Shore Regional Health, Dr. Kurtom performs surgical procedures at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton. For additional information about the services provided by Dr. Kurtom, call 410-820-9117 or visit his website at www.umcmg.org/neuronews.