Jean: Standing Straight and Tall

To her delight, Mercy Medical Center helped straighten out Jean M.

Literally.

When she a teenager, Jean, of Severn, MD, was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, an abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine which has no known cause. Growing up, Jean says, her condition was more an inconvenience than a painful problem. “My mother would make my clothes and have to hem one side longer than the other,” she said. “Everything I wore was off-center.”

At the time she was diagnosed, Jean said, there was not much known about scoliosis, so she just lived with it. “My clothes just didn’t fit properly,” she said.

But as she grew into an adult, so did Jean’s scoliosis. Her Cobb’s Angle, a measurement used for evaluation of curves in scoliosis, grew worse. Her spine was in an S shape. Then the pain set in. “I couldn’t carry any weight,” she said. “I had a lot of pain. I used to put a pillow behind my back to drive a car or sit anywhere.”

As a now-retired career librarian with a master’s in Library Science, Jean knew as well as anyone that despite a strong plot and characters, no good story can stand up straight without a strong spine to hold it together. So, never wholly satisfied with just accepting her fate, she searched for solutions.

A Straight Answer

One step she took was to sign up for an e-mail alert on news regarding adult scoliosis, and in 2011 she found what she was looking for – a straight answer.

“I got an e-mail alert telling me about a National Institutes of Health study on adult scoliosis being done at Washington University in St. Louis,” she said. “As it turned out, part of the study was also being done in Baltimore, and I certainly was interested.”

Mercy Medical Center’s Maryland Spine Center was one of five sites participating in the five-year trial, which began in 2010 and was being conducted to determine which patients benefit from scoliosis treatment and what kind of treatment is most effective. At Mercy, the study is overseen by Dr. Charles Edwards II, Director of the Spine Clinic at The Maryland Spine Center.

“I called Dr. Edwards and it turned out my particular spinal curve was right for the study and I was accepted into it,” Jean said. That was the good news. The initial discouraging news was that study participants were broken into two groups – those treated with surgery, and a second group, which received non-surgical treatments such as acupuncture and physical therapy. Jean was placed in the non-surgical group.

“I had hoped to be in the surgical group,” Jean said. “I was ready. I finally asked Dr. Edwards if I could be moved and he agreed. That was very welcome news.”

Treatment Takes a Life to New Heights

Jean’s initial contact at Mercy was with Lisa Ford, a Physician Assistant at The Maryland Spine Center, who was one of many physicians and staff she came to admire and respect. “Lisa was so caring and dedicated,” she said. “Really everyone I came in contact with at Mercy was a blessing.”

In November 2011 Dr. Edwards performed spinal fusion and instrumentation surgery on Jean, a six and one-half hour procedure that included fusing vertebrae and implanting two cobalt chromium rods and 20 titanium screws in her spine. The good news was, it worked. Jean was straight again.

“Before the surgery I’d gotten to the point where I was hunched over and could hardly walk,” she said. “But afterward I wasn’t off-center anymore. My spine was straight.”

She spent three days at Mercy recovering, then a week at a physical therapy facility. By the fourth day she was up and walking with a brace and a cane. She hasn’t slowed down since, and now needs neither a brace nor a cane.

“I had just a great team,” she said. “The nuns, nurses, doctors, and other staff; really everyone there was truly wonderful. They are a dedicated, hard-working, caring group at The Maryland Spine Center.”

As for Dr. Edwards, Jean refers to him as “absolutely brilliant.”

“My husband says Dr. Edwards could have been a star at any hospital,” she said. “He’s extremely skilled and talented. I would choose him to treat me for anything. He’s that good.”

One of the benefits of her newly-straightened spine is that Jean added a couple of inches to her height, and she lost weight as a result of the surgery. “I finally made it to five feet,” she said.

In retirement, Jean says she’s taking time now to catch-up on many projects, particularly reading and travel. She can drive now without a pillow. She’s no longer in pain. Everything is straight and centered again.

“The entire experience was extraordinary,” she added. “Everyone was very caring and went the extra mile for me. My life has changed as a result of Mercy Medical Center. The general consensus is that everything is looking good. I am certainly a success story, and extremely grateful to all who helped me at Mercy.”

Jean's Treatment Team