Spinal Fusion Surgery Restores Quality of Life for Mother of 3
In the fall of 2020, Hope Terry was preparing to sell her house and move across the country with her husband and three kids when she woke up with debilitating sciatic nerve pain.
It wasn’t her first experience with sciatica, but after already enduring two spine surgeries, she felt discouraged by the recurrence. Another surgery would likely mean a spinal fusion—a more complex procedure than those prior.
An imaging test confirmed that 39-year-old Hope needed a third spine surgery. She told her doctor’s office in South Carolina that she was about to move to Arizona, so they equipped her with her MRI report and a recommendation.
“You need to find someone at Barrow,” they said.
Hope had heard of Barrow Neurological Institute while living in Arizona previously, but she hadn’t needed a spine surgeon during that time.
Amid packing up her life in South Carolina, she began researching Barrow spine surgeons online and came across Laura Snyder, MD. Hope sent her medical imaging to Dr. Snyder’s office and was promptly scheduled for a consultation.
“We were literally in Arizona maybe 24 hours, and I had an appointment with her,” Hope said. “Maybe two days after that, she had me scheduled for surgery.”
Sciatic Nerve Pain Signals Herniated Discs
Hope’s symptoms first appeared in 2010. She had just transitioned from working as a bedside nurse in a pediatric intensive-care unit to doing telephone triage from home. She began having pain in one of her sciatic nerves, a peripheral nerve that originates at the base of the spine and runs down the leg and into the foot.
“It’s a burning pain, but it’s almost like a knife,” she recalled. “It’s just so sharp that it takes your breath way. It is the worst pain I’ve ever had.”
She learned she had two herniated discs in her lower back, in the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine. Normally, the discs between the bones of the spine provide cushioning and enable movement. But degeneration, injury, or a combination of both can cause these discs to rupture. The protruding disc fragment can put pressure on the spinal cord and peripheral nerve roots, causing pain and neurological symptoms.
Hope underwent a microdiscectomy for both discs—between the fourth and fifth bones, or vertebrae, of the lumbar spine (L4 and L5) and between L5 and the uppermost segment of the sacrum (S1). A microdiscectomy involves removing the disc fragment that is putting pressure on the nerves.
Although Hope can’t pinpoint any particular injury, she suspects she didn’t always use proper mechanics while lifting patients as a bedside nurse. She also noted that spine problems seem to run in her family.
Spinal Fusion Surgery Looms After Recurrent Disc Herniation
For the next seven years, Hope lived symptom free—until she was pregnant with her third child. The sciatica returned with ferocity during her third trimester.
After giving birth in December 2017 and prior to moving to South Carolina, Hope had surgery the following February in Florida to redo the L4-L5 microdiscectomy. That brought her to the fall of 2020, when she ruptured the L4-L5 disc once again.
“When I had the sciatica come back, I thought: This is not a road I want to go down,” she said.
Hope had been dreading the day she’d need a spinal fusion. But everything hurt, she recalled, whether it was walking, sitting, standing, or lying down.
“You just can’t function when it’s your back,” she said. “Everything is just that much harder.”
Finding Dr. Snyder: ‘She is Just the Complete Package’
Hope wasn’t sure what to expect with spinal fusion surgery but felt more at ease after her consultation at Barrow. Dr. Snyder impressed Hope with her communication, knowledge, bedside manner, and affability.
“I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Snyder,” Hope raved. “She is just the complete package.”
Also at Hope’s consultation, Dr. Snyder fitted her for a back brace to wear while she awaited surgery—and to hang onto for support after surgery.
“I don’t think there would have been any way that I could’ve helped my family unpack and get situated without it,” she said.
On Nov. 30, Hope underwent a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) with Dr. Snyder. This approach to spinal fusion surgery involves accessing the lower spine through the vertebral foramen—the tunnel through which nerves exit the spinal cord. Dr. Snyder removed the herniated disc, inserted a bone graft to join the L4 and L5 vertebrae together, and stabilized the spine with rods and screws.
To Hope’s surprise, she felt well enough to walk around the hospital floor that night and returned home after a two-night stay.
“I thought: I hope that by my little guy’s third birthday and Christmas, I’m able to be up and around and enjoy the holiday and not hurt,” Hope said. “It by far exceeded my expectations.”
Feeling ‘Priceless’ After Spinal Fusion Surgery at Barrow
Although she still avoids most lifting, Hope is pain fee and has gradually returned to activities like riding her Peloton bike and golfing with her family—something she thought she might not be able to do again.
“This is what makes her surgery so gratifying,” Dr. Snyder said. “Prior to surgery she had a list of activities that she had accepted that she couldn’t do, and now I get to see her excitement and success in returning to them.”
Hope credits Dr. Snyder with her renewed quality of life and feels optimistic that she won’t need another surgery in the future. But she’s glad to have Dr. Snyder in her corner—just in case.
“I’m very thankful for her and very thankful for Barrow,” Hope said. “Having the surgery done and feeling how I feel today, it’s just priceless.”