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Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital Pain Clinic  to buck lower back pain

87-year-old John underwent a surgical decompression procedure at St. Mark's that brought back his quality of life.

March 10, 2022
John and Wanda Blankenstein are standing together hand in hand on a path surrounded by a vibrant tropical plants, trees, and lawn ornaments

When John Blankenstein’s cousin from the Netherlands came to visit America, John roped him into watching a rodeo in Heber City. What could be more American than that? But as they walked toward the rowdy arena, John’s back unexpectedly bucked with pain.

“Spinal stenosis can come on just like that. I had to turn to my wife, Wanda, and tell her I couldn’t walk any more. The pain inhibited any walking,” John said.

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces within the spine narrows, spurring pressure onto nerves that travel up and down the spine. Generally caused by wear and tear, symptoms can worsen over time and most commonly occur in the lower back and/or the neck.

John continued riding the ornery condition for several years. To cope, he received intermittent steroid shots from a local orthopedic physician which pacified the inflammation, although only temporarily.

“The first couple cortisone shots lasted a year each, but after a while they only lasted 6 months, then three months … It got where it hurt to bend, stand or sit – there just wasn’t a position I could get into to lessen the pain. I told the doctor we needed to try something different,” John said.

Saddling up for surgery: Picking a surgeon with experience, empathy and a willingness to educate the patient

John received a referral to the Pain Clinic at St. Mark’s Hospital. He scheduled a consultation with Dr. Sandeep Teja, a board-certified neurosurgeon with more than 20 years of experience.

“Before our appointment, Dr. Teja called and introduced himself. I was so surprised to hear him on the other end of the call. What an impressive way to start! He wanted to make sure he had the latest MRI on my back, since he was preparing for our appointment,” John said.

The positive impression continued to deepen when John and Wanda met with Dr. Teja.

“Immediately, we felt comfortable and could tell he cared. He went through, step-by-step, what would happen with John’s surgery,” Wanda said. “He used a plastic replica of the spine and placed it right next to the MRI image as he taught us. We felt like we were in school, learning everything about this surgery.”

Bucking the back pain: Surgery relieves pressure, pain

At 87 years old, John underwent a surgical decompression procedure called a laminectomy. During the surgery, Dr. Teja removed the back part of the affected vertebra, creating more space in the spinal canal, and thus relieving pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.

“Dr. Teja told us that normally when he performs this procedure, he works on one or two vertebras at a time, but not five. John needed all five lumbar vertebrae – L1 through L5 – because all of them were pinching a nerve,” Wanda explained.

John and Wanda agree that Dr. Teja’s attention to detail, expertise, skill and compassionate style made the experience not only successful but positive.

“He made me feel like I was just part of his family. I’ve never had a doctor make me feel that way immediately. That’s very special,” John said.

Riding life again: Back surgery results offer quality of life

After John’s surgery, he spent two weeks at a local rehabilitation center, regaining strength and preparing to climb the stairs to his bedroom. Once home, he continued a strict no bending, lifting or twisting policy and committed to a consistent physical therapy regimen.

Wanda says John’s surgery was an excellent choice – and so was the choice to have it at St. Mark’s Hospital’s Pain Clinic.

“I say ‘Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital Pain Clinic’ because the staff is fantastic, the technology is above what we’ve seen at other hospitals, and the care he received was just wonderful. Everyone took care of John. They were so good to us,” Wanda said.

Thanks to the surgery, John is feeling relief from spinal stenosis pain and dreaming up future plans.

“With my back getting better, I want to return to the Netherlands and see some of my cousins there,” John said.

Learn more about Wasatch Neurosurgery and Spine Associates or call (801) 261-8507.

More about the Spine Care Program at St. Mark's Hospital:

At St. Mark’s Hospital, we understand that neck and back pain can quickly put a halt on your enjoying life. Our highly experienced back specialists use surgical and nonsurgical treatments to treat back and neck pain and other symptoms associated with spine conditions. Learn more here.

March 10, 2022
St. Mark's Hospital

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