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Kimberly Tolstyka – Neurosurgery Success Story

Giving pain the cold shoulder – Methodist Richardson physicians worked together to diagnose and treat Kimberly Tolstyka’s mysterious condition

Kimberly Tolstyka and her family Kimberly Tolstyka can once again enjoy time
with her family, including her husband, Jerry,
and son, David. When her condition confused
others, doctors at Methodist Richardson correctly
diagnosed the problem and saved her from pain
and potential paralysis.

According to Kimberly Tolstyka, it all began with seemingly harmless shoulder pain one day at work last October.

“I was sitting at my desk, and I felt a pop in my shoulder blade,” Tolstyka recalls. “It felt almost like someone had punched me. I got up, walked around, stretched, and then sat back down.”

Tolstyka says by the end of the day, the pain had radiated to her neck, side, and arm.

Seeking relief

Within days, the pain worsened and her arms and legs became weaker. Tolstyka, a registered nurse and certified case manager, began visiting a number of physicians and medical facilities. Numerous times physicians incorrectly attributed the pain to a sprain or strain.

The usually active 53-year-old was relegated to moving around the house with a walker and later in a wheelchair because her legs were so weak. With her condition worsening and her frustration with incorrect diagnoses increasing, Tolstyka went to the emergency department (ED) at Methodist Richardson Medical Center, where she finally found answers.

The correct diagnosis

Tolstyka was admitted for treatment after ED physicians discovered a urinary tract infection. Serge Lartchenko, MD, infectious diseases physician, then began a series of tests and discovered the presence of a MRSA infection, which is caused by a strain of staph bacteria.

Knowing Tolstyka was also experiencing pain and weakness in her extremities, Dr. Lartchenko alerted Methodist Richardson neurosurgeon Michael Oh, MD, PhD, who then ordered an MRI scan. The imaging test revealed a significant abscess in her spine: from the base of her skull to her mid-torso. The abscess was placing immense pressure on the spinal cord, causing Tolstyka to become weak to the point that she could no longer walk.

Dr. Oh explained to Tolstyka that if left untreated, the abscess could lead to paralysis from the neck down and recommended an aggressive treatment plan.

The next day, Oct. 22, Dr. Oh performed a laminectomy procedure, draining the abscess in two places to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. He says he didn’t necessarily expect Tolstyka’s diagnosis.

“It’s unusual to see an infection like Kimberly’s in otherwise healthy individuals,” he says. “We usually see this condition in people with weakened immune systems, poor wound healing, or those prone to infections.”

Road to recovery

Following the procedure, Tolstyka began a regimen of antibiotics and intense physical therapy and says she saw rapid progress, being able to walk within weeks and return to work in January.

She appreciates the quality care she received at Methodist Richardson.

“Dr. Oh and Dr. Lartchenko were always clear and upfront with me, never holding back information,” she says. “They treated me professionally and respectfully, and I appreciate that they were always present immediately to discuss test results with my husband and me.

“I have two sons and two granddaughters. My family needs me. I’m so thankful for Dr. Oh, Dr. Lartchenko, and the Methodist Richardson team.”

From the spring 2014 edition of Shine magazine.