Renee Polhamus – Neurosurgery Success Story

Let’s try something NEW

If it’s the first weekend of the month, you’ll find 55-year-old Dallas native Renee Polhamus in Canton at the First Monday Trade Days. Her booth, Mombot Creations, is brimming with handmade tutus and baby clothes. These days, she can easily wait on her customers — a far cry from last year, when her every movement was hindered by debilitating back pain.

“For years, I had a job I loved with a textbook distributor,” Renee explains. “I never thought that all the heavy lifting at the trade shows would cause more than a decade of pain.”

Living in pain

Renee managed her back pain with medication until 2010, when she had surgery to repair a bulging disk. The pain relief lasted three months until a violent sneeze threw out her back and caused her pain to return.

“I had a second surgery that helped, but I still had some pain,” Renee says. “Scar tissue from the surgeries had formed around a nerve. So it was back to the drawing board of using medication and injections to manage the pain.”

But that wasn’t the life Renee wanted for herself or her family.

A different approach

After four surgeries and countless injections, Renee was ready to find a better way to get pain relief.

Randall Graham, MD, neurosurgeon with Methodist Brain and Spine Institute at Methodist Richardson Medical Center, had the answer.

“After reviewing Renee’s history, I felt the best way to proceed was lumbar interbody fusion (LIF) surgery,” Dr. Graham says. “This type of surgery fuses together two vertebrae so there would be no movement allowed between them and they would heal as one solid bone. It’s the best way to fuse the very bottom disk, which is what Renee needed.”

There are multiple ways to perform LIF surgeries, and the biggest difference among them is the approach the surgeon uses to access the spine. Renee wasn’t a good candidate for the posterior (back) approach due to previous surgeries.

With an anterior (front) approach (ALIF), the neurosurgeon gains certain advantages: More disk space can be removed, a larger spinal implant can be inserted, and bones fuse better. However, it requires a large incision across the abdomen, and if the surgeon then needs access to the spine from the back, the patient will need to be rotated.

Wanting to avoid these complications completely, Dr. Graham asked Renee if she would consider being the first patient in Dallas–Fort Worth to receive lateral ALIF surgery.

A new solution

“Lateral ALIF is a newer technique that has all the characteristics of ALIF but reduces blood loss during surgery and shortens the time in the operating room,” Dr. Graham says. “After I explained to Renee that her recovery would be much faster, she was on board.”

The patient remains on his or her side for the entire surgery. By eliminating the need to reposition patients, the length of the surgery is drastically reduced. The technique also allows for a much smaller incision, often resulting in less pain and a quicker recovery.

For Renee, this “first” was a success. Her pain gradually disappeared, and within three months, she was completely off pain medications.

“I feel so lucky that I found Methodist Richardson and that Dr. Graham was able to perform this new technique that gave me my life back,” Renee says. “I’m able to do things with my family and grow my business — two things I didn’t expect to ever get back.”

A first for DFW means pain relief for Renee Polhamus

»IS YOUR GOLF SWING HURTING YOUR BACK?

Go to MethodistHealthSystem.org/Media for tips from neurosurgeon Randall Graham, MD.

Renee Polhamus is the first patient in Dallas–Fort Worth to receive lateral ALIF surgery to relieve back pain.