Staged procedure helps back patients

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DENVER -- Brian Caldwell is back on the golf course, and feeling good thanks to a unique back procedure.  Watching him play golf, it’s hard to believe that just last year the Centennial father was in so much back pain, that he couldn’t function.  “The quality of life was just miserable,” Caldwell said.

Brian had had several spine surgeries for a pinched nerve, and then developed a very serious staph infection that required another surgery to clean it out.  “My facet joint was compromised, I guess for a lack of a better word, and  so they removed that as well,” Brian said.

That meant that portion of his spine was unstable.  Imagine a tricycle without a back wheel.  Brain was in horrible pain, and practically immobile when he came to see Dr. Michael Gallizzi, an orthopedic surgeon at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver.

“When he first came in he was miserable,” Dr. Gallizzi said.  So he decided to perform something called a staged procedure.  It’s a surgery done in two stages, and in between the patient gets up and walks around to see how it feels.

On day one, the doctor does an indirect decompression of the nerve, going in from the front or the side.  “I will restore the alignment and the height of the disc spaces with a very fancy plastic spacer and screws,”  he said.  Then patients spend the night in the hospital.

The next morning they get up and walk the halls to see how they feel.  That kind of feedback gives Dr. Gallizzi a chance to customize his procedure for his patients.  “Their right leg may be completely asymptomatic, and they say, ‘Hey, you know what, my left leg just hurts on the top of my foot now.’ Well, that’s a specific nerve, and that tells me that that one nerve needs to be decompressed now,” Dr. Gallizzi said.

The majority of patients don’t need a revision.  He finishes up with a second surgery on day two, going in through the back with just a small incision to put in the hardware. He says that can be less disruptive to the back tissue.  “I’m restoring, and keeping and preserving  as much natural anatomy as I can,” he said.

Clearly it’s worked for Brian.  He’s getting back to life, and is able to participate with his family again.  “It’s just changed our lives,” he said.