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Steve's Story: Disc Condition

A father of six, ultra-runner, wine collector, husband of 28 years and scientific director for a pharmaceutical company developing treatments for cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, Steve grew up in San Jose, graduated from UC Davis, and earned his PhD in Human Genetics at the University of Utah. He enjoys exercising vigorously and was a Utah state champion squash player. After damaging his shoulder playing squash, Steve turned to running where he participated in trail marathons and 50k races. He was in his early 40s when he started having back pain that kept getting progressively worse. Ten years later at age 55, he was managing the pain of a disc condition with lots of stretching and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs. A year ago, the pain became unbearable at times and moved from his back to his legs. Eventually, the pain was accompanied by weakness and his legs started failing him and would even buckle at times.

“I realized that no amount of chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, yoga or physical therapy was going to solve this,” Steve remembers. “I started meeting with physiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, and neurosurgeons, and underwent epidural steroid injections to relieve the pain. I gave up on the injection path pretty quickly and was referred to Dr. Yazeed Gussous, a spine surgeon at El Camino Hospital, whose approach was one that I believed would have a good outcome, based on my research.”

“Dr. Gussous gave me a sense of confidence in the surgical procedure; but it was his bedside manner and the way he spoke to me as a patient that convinced me he was the right choice,” explains Steve. “He took the time to ask what I did for a living and skipped over the basic stuff that I knew already and got into my more technical questions. He is very respectful and an extraordinary doctor and caregiver. He was generous with his time, gave me his cell number and was incredibly responsive. From our very first meeting, I was struck by his philosophy of treating patients like they were part of his family. I really felt like that.”

Dr. Gussous performed a spinal decompression and a two-level fusion to repair the damage to Steve’s spine and alleviate the pain. Damaged disc material was removed and cages inserted to create space for his spinal nerves; and then titanium cages, screws, and rods were used to stabilize his lower back while bone engraftment was taking place.

Steve says his recovery is going very well and all the pain going into the surgery was immediately gone. “I haven’t felt strength in my legs in a year and now they feel strong again,” he says. Treatment included physical and occupational therapy, and Steve was fitted for a custom brace while he was in the hospital and used a walker after the surgery. “I can’t lift, bend or twist right now so the occupational therapist had to teach me how to use devices to put on my shoes, socks and to do other things,” he says. “But there is a good chance I will be able to be really active again, including swimming, golfing, biking and even some easy trail running. I was approved to stay off work for seven weeks; but came back after about four and a half. I feel great!”

Prior to his surgery, Steve was able to drop in without an appointment at the El Camino Hospital Imaging Services Department to have dynamic x-rays, MRIs, an echocardiogram and other pre-surgical tests. “That’s the fantastic part about El Camino Hospital,” he says. “I was in and out in 30 minutes and didn’t need an appointment. I have been really, really happy with the care I’ve received at El Camino Hospital. People should go visit the hospital before they have a surgical procedure done to make sure it is modern, has state-of-the-art equipment and that the communication is good. Don’t just go to the hospital closest to your home. You have to manage your own healthcare and I recommend doing your research so you can be comfortable with your choice and have the best outcome.”

Post-surgery, Dr. Gussous continues to monitor Steve’s progress. “Three months after surgery, he still checks in, asks about my pain level and answers my questions,” Steve says. “The accessibility I enjoyed pre-surgery with Dr. Gussous has been maintained through this post-operative period too. He takes the extra time to make you feel like you are his only patient. I knew from the first time we met he was the right surgeon for me and he has since reinforced that feeling. I met with four doctors before I made my selection and I could not be happier. From the therapists and doctors, to the nutritionists and nurses, everyone at El Camino Hospital is top notch.”