Amber: Journey to the Light

For Amber W. of the Mt. Washington area of Baltimore, years of persistent pain in her head, back, and shoulders led her to believe no one would discover the source or the cure for her seemingly endless hurting.

It was a lonely place to be.

“I was in such pain and it was so emotional that I was depressed,” Amber said. “It got to the point where I couldn’t even do something as simple as wear my hair in a ponytail because it caused too much pain. I was crying all the time.”

But after years of suffering, Amber found another place, one where people understood, one where she was helped on her journey to a pain-free life. It was ultimately, for Amber, a place of light. A place of healing.

She found Mercy Medical Center.

Where There is Darkness, Light; Where There is Sadness, Joy

Amber’s journey began in 2006 with unexplained, debilitating headaches. Ironically, she works in fundraising at  Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally recognized health care organization specializing in improving the lives of individuals with disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and musculoskeletal system. She also works part-time helping a young child with autism. So she knew about pain and health issues. But this was different. This was not about what she knew; it was about what she didn’t know. Why she was hurting.

When the headaches got to be too much, Amber went to see her neurologist who recommended an MRI. He also referred her to an orthopedic specialist – Dr. Mara Vucich at Mercy’s Maryland Spine Center. With her head constantly throbbing, Amber was anxious to finally get answers; to see the light again.

“It takes awhile to get an appointment with a specialist,” she said. “I had to wait a little while to see Dr. Vucich and I kept calling her office to see if there was any way I could get in sooner. I was desperate.”

She did get in, and found a doctor who was understanding and caring. “I felt like I could ask her anything,” Amber said: “And she would be honest and caring about her response.”

By that time it wasn’t just headaches that were stalking Amber, there were terrific back and shoulder pains as well. After an MRI, Dr. Vucich found the sources - a host of issues, from a bulging disk in her neck to shoulder atrophy to spinal stenosis and curvature of the spine.

A Lamp Unto My Feet

But before she could be treated, there was one more issue Amber had to address: She was pregnant.

“At that point,” she said. “The baby obviously was my priority.”

During her pregnancy, Dr. Vucich recommended Amber to a pain specialist, Dr. David Maine, Director of Mercy’s Center for Interventional Pain Medicine. It wasn’t a cure, Amber said, but it was at least a little light. “Dr. Maine really wanted to help with the pain, not just with drugs, but help me get through it,” she said. “He would always ask me ‘what can I do to help?”

In 2009 Amber’s son was born. Little Roman was a healthy baby boy who brought much joy to his mother’s heart. But there was still the pain in other parts of her body. It was time to finally address it.

“After Roman was born I spoke with both Dr. Vucich and Dr. Maine and they said that if the pain hadn’t gone away yet it wasn’t going to happen,” she said. “We needed to take some steps.”

The steps were a recommendation to see an orthopedic surgeon, and not just any surgeon. Dr. Charles C. Edwards II is Medical Director of Mercy’s Spine Clinic and has expertise in the management of nerve compression disorders in the cervical spine and the treatment of major spinal deformities.

He knew how to bring her to the light.

A Light Unto My Path

“I will never forget the morning of my surgery,” she recalled. “I had my mother with me and Roman’s father, and I was really nervous and full of anxiety. Dr. Edwards walked into the room and could see my discomfort, and said to me ‘can I pray with you?’ He was so kind and understanding. It was so comforting, and I knew right there I was in good hands.”

Dr. Edwards would perform Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgery on Amber, a procedure where an incision is made in the front of the neck, and affected cervical discs, in Amber’s case C 6-7, can be addressed. For Amber, it was like a light went on.

“It took some time and I had to go through some healing, but my life was completely changed,” she said. “I got so many things back I thought were lost.”

Her pain now is nearly non-existent. “I know what it’s like to be in pain everyday and I am not now,” she said. “No one’s life is completely normal, but I’m as close to that as I’ve ever been. Thanks to Dr. Edwards and all the doctors and staff at Mercy, I feel like I’ve made it back.”

Back to the light. And for the support and healing she received, Amber cannot say enough.

“I would recommend anyone to Mercy,” she concluded. “The doctors and staff are so personal, so encouraging  and so professional. What was important to me was that they understood what the pain was doing to me. That was comforting.

“When you’ve come as far as I have, you have to be appreciative of that kind of consideration. What a journey. I’m glad I made it with Mercy.”

Amber's Treatment Team