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Only One Regret

Posted on February 24, 2016 in Spine

Some women won’t go anywhere without the right purse or the perfect scarf to properly accessorize an outfit. Karen Moore’s accessory of choice last spring was a little different. She carried a lawn chair everywhere she went.

Before she had a lumbar fusion at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, Moore couldn’t stand up for more than four minutes at a time without excruciating pain. Unfortunately, sitting down wasn’t much better.

Moore, who is part owner of Huck Finn’s Catfish restaurant in Pigeon Forge, says she spent a lot of time in tears and in misery. “It felt like I’d been stabbed with an ice pick,” Moore says.

“The pain went down my right side through my hip, and all the way down to my foot.”

Her problems started when sciatica began to take hold in 2012. A spinal laminectomy by a different surgeon relieved her pain for about six months, but a follow-up MRI confirmed that she needed lumbar fusion.

Lumbar fusion is surgery that uses bone tissue to connect vertebrae in the spine, mimicking the normal healing process of broken bones. Neurosurgeon Barrett Brown, MD, performs the procedure through The Center for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery at Fort Sanders Region-al, and has seen it transform the lives of back pain sufferers like Moore.

Moore wasn’t ready. She was about the business of taking care of business. She was traveling out of state once a month to help care for her parents, plus trying to keep up with a demanding job.

Although the pain seemed unbearable, she bore it anyway. She very simply didn’t think she could sacrifice the time for surgery and recovery.

“My oldest son had a lumbar fusion two years earlier at another hospital, and I took care of him. They told him not to get on a plane for three months, and I couldn’t imagine not being able to go see my parents for that long,” Moore says.

So she tried alternative measures to manage the pain, including spinal injections every month for about a year, a chiropractor, physical therapy and “lots of Tylenol and Advil.” The breaking point came when her physical therapist told her there was nothing more he could do for her.

“I wasn’t living,” Moore says. “I was just existing.”

Moore had heard about Dr. Brown and was interested in learning more about how he would help to relieve her pain. She gathered up every ounce of courage, and made the phone call that would change her life.

“From the moment the first person answered the phone, I felt at ease,” Moore says. “Everybody on the office staff was wonderful.”

With compassion, they listened to her concerns through-out the process, and offered un-wavering support. “It felt more personal. It felt like they really cared about me,” Moore says.

After a new MRI and a consultation with Dr. Brown, lumbar fusion was recommended for stenosis spondylolisthesis and a herniated disc. Fear and uncertainty no longer ruled. “He just put me at ease,” she says.

Minimally invasive surgery was finally performed on June 18 of last year, with six small in-cisions rather than one long incision, allowing faster recovery and less pain. That was a pleasant surprise for Moore, who had witnessed her son’s long and painful recovery from traditional surgery.

“I had no pain at all when I woke up,” Moore says. “I remember moving my leg and hip around, and I had no pain, at all!”

Assuming she was just enjoying the effects of surgery medication, she and her family disregarded the doctor’s opinion that she was ready to go home the day of her surgery. But even the next day, the sharp pain that had shot down her leg two days earlier was gone.

“I never used a walker at home, I never used crutches, and I just went to follow-up therapy once,” Moore says. “The therapist said, ‘You don’t need to be here.’”

She was careful to follow the doctor’s instructions not to bend, lift, or twist for six weeks, but less than a month after surgery, Moore was back at the restaurant, greeting guests and running the cash register.

“Every day was just better and better,” Moore says. “I thought it was going to be four, five, six days in the hospital, I thought it was going to be a long, long recovery.”

Six months after the surgery, Moore was waiting in line at an electronics store when she saw a man who was looking for a chair to sit in. She listened as he talked to someone nearby about his pain.

“The more he talked, the more it described what was going on with me,” Moore says. She pulled up Dr. Brown on her smart-phone and told him if he wanted good results, “you should go see these guys.”

Moore says her only regret is that she didn’t have the surgery a lot sooner. “I think about all the time I wasted – I was in so much pain,” Moore says. “Now I can stand as long as I want, I can walk, I can sit and I’m back to living, again.”

To learn more about spine surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, visit