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Finding freedom from pain

By The Health News Team | July 9, 2024
Donna Bailey at the San Diego Zoo

Donna Bailey addressed her back pain with surgery, and is back to doing what she loves.

For years, Donna Bailey enjoyed walking around the San Diego Zoo, one of her favorite activities. She’d walk for hours, exploring the exhibits and enjoying the antics of the animals. It was a great way to stay healthy, get exercise and be outdoors.

Donna was also a dedicated volunteer in Russia and Ecuador for more than a decade. Her missionary work combined a love of travel with a passion for humanitarian work. Working within communities, Donna helped build homes while traveling throughout the region she was visiting.

However, in 2017, Donna started having back pain, which made walking difficult. She was taking ibuprofen constantly to manage the pain, but her symptoms continued to worsen.

With her pain reaching unbearable levels, she was no longer able to travel.

Recognizing a need for care

Donna first heard the words “spine surgery” after having an MRI in 2018. The results showed that she had compression in her lumbar spine, which was putting pressure on the nerves in her lower back.

The thought of surgery — specifically, spine surgery — terrified Donna. She decided to try nonsurgical treatment options first, including physical therapy, massage and spinal injections.

But nothing seemed to help. Donna had to take narcotics just to get up in the morning.

“It was a terrible time,” Donna says. “I was in constant pain every day and didn’t even want to even get out of bed.”

The decision to have surgery

It was during this time that Donna found out one of her friends had spinal surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital. He had excellent outcomes and highly recommended his surgeon. Donna decided to move forward with her own surgery.

“The goal of lumbar decompression surgery is to remove the compressive elements, such as bone or ligaments, that are putting pressure on the nerves,” says Dr. Sohaib Kureshi, a neurosurgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial. “This creates more space for the nerve roots and allows for better healing.”

The most common type of lumbar decompression surgery is a laminectomy, which involves removing part of the vertebrae bone.

Finding reassurance through Sharp’s Generational Health Center

Two days before Donna’s surgery in April, Jillian Bakke, RN, the lead clinical nurse with Sharp’s Advanced Illness Management (AIM) team, called Donna to go over the procedure and answer her questions. AIM is a part of The John M. Sachs Family Center for Generational Health at Sharp Memorial Hospital, a comprehensive network aimed to support and deliver exceptional care for the older adult patient population with several programmatic pieces tailored to individualize care plans based on what matters most to them. AIM serves any patient with a new or chronic diagnosis of an advanced or progressive illness.

“We put the focus on patient priorities and provide education to each patient on their illness and how it will affect their life,” says Bakke. “We empower patients to have a voice in their care and ensure that medical treatments align with what matters most to our patients.”

Bakke listened to Donna’s concerns, talked about her goals and how to achieve them, and provided resources for post-surgery discharge. “Jillian was fantastic,” says Donna. “She eliminated my fear and made me comfortable with the decision to have surgery.”

The gift of pain relief — and confidence

Donna was in the hospital for six days following surgery. It will take six to eight months to fully recover, but Donna says she’s up for the challenge.

While she still has pain when she moves around, it’s no longer constant, and Donna says she can see an end in sight. She’s especially grateful to Dr. Kureshi and the staff on the medical-surgical unit for encouraging her in her physical therapy and keeping her spirits up.

Donna is now looking forward to being able to walk around the zoo and travel again. Her plans include going to New Orleans, followed by a longer trip to Alaska and Europe — maybe even another missionary trip to Ecuador.

“I’m working on my journey to a pain-free life,” says Donna. “The staff at Sharp gave me the confidence to believe that I could do it.”

Learn more about Generational Health at Sharp Memorial Hospital; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

Thank you to our philanthropic partners, including the John M. Sachs Family Center for Generational Health and West Health for collaborative efforts in pioneering excellence in aging at Sharp HealthCare.

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