A lifetime of back pain cured

December 01, 2012
Marilyn Claytor, with spine surgeons, Nitin N. Bhatia, MD, and Samuel S. Bederman, MD, PhD

Marilyn Claytor knows back pain. The 74-year-old Anaheim resident was born with scoliosis—an abnormal curvature of the spine— and suffered multiple injuries through her life that left her unable to sleep and barely able to walk despite several back surgeries.

Thanks to UC Irvine spine surgeons and a robotic technology called SpineAssist®, Claytor is no longer stooped over or kept awake by persistent pain.

Claytor’s scoliosis became so pronounced by the age of 18 that she began wearing a back brace periodically throughout her adult life. An injury when she was in her 30s and another one in her 50s further weakened her spine. Claytor had back surgery after each injury, gaining some relief. She eventually had to retire early when it became too difficult to make the uphill trek from the doctor’s office where she worked as an office manager to meetings at the hospital next door.

"My legs would give out and I’d have to stop and lean against something till the circulation returned," Claytor says. "My doctors at the time told me I wouldn’t be walking in 10 years."

In her mid-60s, Claytor again underwent surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves in her spinal canal and fuse three vertebrae together. It helped for about 10 years, but by 2011, she could barely walk or sleep. "I was taking so much medication but I was still in tremendous pain," she says. "I was bent over like a crooked old woman."

Despair was setting in. Through a relative, Claytor learned that UCI Health surgeons had performed the first robot-assisted minimally invasive spine surgery on the West Coast with SpineAssist®, an advanced robotic navigational tool that could help them treat her complex spine issues.

Claytor met with Dr. Samuel Bederman, an expert in scoliosis and spinal deformity, who told her that he would straighten her spine over the course of three operations and that he would use SpineAssist® to help him. "He gave me such hope, hope I haven’t had since I was 18," she says.

First Bederman performed a decompression and fusion in her neck, above and below the prior fusion where the spine was weakening and pressing on nerves, creating numbness in her hands. Next he worked on the lower back, where arthritis had caused further degeneration, resulting in more nerve compression and severe pain.

In the third operation, because of the complexity, "we took a two-stage approach," explains Bederman, who was assisted by Dr. Nitin Bhatia, UC Irvine’s chief of orthopaedic surgery. For the first stage, they performed a minimally invasive procedure to fuse four of Claytor’s vertebrae. This restored most of her alignment and helped relieve pressure on the nerves. Second, they used the SpineAssist® robot to precisely place instrumentation to stabilize the spine, fusing eight vertebrae and helping to prevent further collapse.

"The second stage was when the robot was extremely valuable," Bederman says. "We were able to insert our screws and rods in an area difficult to see because of a prior fusion. Because of the robot, we completed our task more efficiently and with fewer X-rays."

Before the surgery, Claytor’s posture was so stooped that she was unable to lift her head and was forced to look downward. Now, after surgery, she is delighted to be able to look straight ahead, just like everyone else.

To make an appointment to discuss robot-assisted spine surgery, call 714-456-7012.

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