Patient Success Stories

Complex spine reconstruction surgeries come with a measure of risk. But after a year and a half living with a severe chin-on-chest deformity – making it impossible to look up and keeping her in horrific pain – Gulf Shores resident Renea Richards decided the potential benefit was worth the risk.

 

After a previous surgery with a different surgeon in May 2018, Richards knew something was wrong in her neck, as her head began tilting forward. Eventually, her head became locked in a position where her chin touched her breastbone, and she couldn’t move. She could barely eat or talk. She was unable to look people in the eye, eventually only able to look at the floor.

Richards was searching for help and was referred to Richard Menger, M.D., MPA, a USA Health neurosurgeon who specializes in complex spine reconstruction surgeries. Over multiple visits, Menger and Richards spent hours discussing her problem, the surgery, associated recovery and risks. Richards decided to proceed with the surgery because her life had deteriorated to the point that she could no longer do the things she loved to do.

“I didn’t have any quality of life,” she said. “I had to try something.”

These films show Renea Richards before (left) and after (right) having surgery performed by Richard Menger, M.D., MPA.

These clinical photos show Renea Richards before (left) and after (right) having surgery performed by Richard Menger, M.D., MPA.

Her surgery took place in October 2019. It took approximately 11 hours and involved a large incision from the top of her neck to the bottom of her back, taking out old spinal instrumentation and adding new ones across 15 spinal levels, having her spine bones disconnected and reconstructed in the proper position, and slowly repositioning her head over her body.

She then spent seven days at USA Health University Hospital, including time in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit. Richards said the staff there were wonderful to her and took care of her needs.

“They were awesome to me,” she said, adding that after she went home, both Menger and Marcelo Gerjoi, PA-C, called to check on her. “It was so impressive that they would take time out of their busy schedules and call and check on me at home.”

After three months, Menger said that Richards is doing better than most patients. This type of surgery can require six months to a year to recover fully. Richards still has a lot of work in front of her, including intensive physical therapy, but she is well on her way.

“Now, I can do more things,” Richards said. “I don’t have to be confined at home and be embarrassed that I’m looking down all the time.” She said a friend recently remarked, “I can see your eyes!” She responded, “Oh, yes, I can see yours, too.”

Richards said she is most looking forward to being able to work in her yard again and visit the beach with her children and grandchildren.

“I can’t wait to go to the beach with my girls and not have everybody staring at me,” Richards said, adding that she hopes she can get in the water without getting knocked down.

“The main goal for this type of surgery is to increase a patient’s quality of life,” Menger said, adding that these types of surgeries are only for significant problems, and he always makes sure his patients have a clear understanding of what to expect.

“This is an invasive and aggressive surgical approach for spinal deformity, and a vertebral column resection is one of the more complex surgical techniques we perform. Every step, from the positioning to the last stitch, is important to the outcome.”

Case Studies of Patients Treated at the Spine Institute

Pediatric Spinal Deformity
This is a pediatric patient with a significant syndromic rotational scoliosis spinal deformity who underwent a T11-pelvis with an innovative kickstand construct, which helps to maintain coronal (or sideways) balance.

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