Spinal Fusion Surgery and Physical Therapy Cure Patient's Severe Damage from Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a concept that’s been in Wendy Nightingale’s life since she was just 13 years old.  In middle school, it became apparent there was no question her spine had the characteristic sideways curve.

Wendy’s mom didn’t want her to wear a back brace, like other girls Wendy’s age who were also diagnosed with scoliosis.  To fix her spine issue, Wendy started seeing a chiropractor.  However, things only got worse.

“I’m very tough,” Wendy said. “I can take pain, and I thought I could grin and bear it.”

As she got older, Wendy attempted to manage her scoliosis by consulting with her primary care doctor.  She was given pain medication and was sent to back doctor after back doctor, but saw no improvement.  The curve in her spine was there to stay, and every surgeon said she was too far gone to be operated on. Essentially, Wendy, 46, was told she had no options besides weekly pain management treatments

“The only time I could feel comfortable was laying straight on my bed. My future was very bleak. I thought I was going to be stuck in a wheelchair my whole life.”

The stars seemed to align soon thereafter, though.  Wendy’s primary care doctor had attended a health conference where Daniel Gelb, MD, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, spoke.

Wendy was willing to give him a chance.  She didn’t get her hopes up, though, until the first time she met Dr. Gelb, who is also a Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

He has an extensive history operating on patients like Wendy with more complicated cases.  And that’s exactly what Wendy needed.

Dr. Gelb agreed to perform spinal fusion surgery on Wendy, and she was ecstatic with the results.  After surgery, Wendy spent time in UMMC’s Intensive Care Unit, which she calls phenomenal.

“They treated me with love and respect,” Wendy said.  “They were exceptionally kind and considerate of my husband while I was there.” 

She also underwent physical therapy to regain normal function in her back.  Everyone involved in her care was just as helpful as Dr. Gelb, and she even wanted to take one of the nurses home with her, she said.

Now, not only is Wendy walking without pain again, but she is enjoying what she calls her ‘new life.’ Wendy is now an avid marathon runner, and competes in about 10 races per year.

“Every time I cross the finish line, I tear up,” Wendy said.

Wendy is also able to volunteer with Meals on Wheels, and also goes to prisons in Michigan, where she now lives, to teach Bible Study.

She is now committed to living a healthy lifestyle, one she thought she never had a chance at - until she met Dr. Gelb.  

“Instead of wheeling myself around in a chair, I am now living a full, healthy, active life, thanks to Dr. Gelb,” Wendy said.