Back to life

Back to life

Jacksonville woman enjoying life free of pain again after surgery to correct a debilitating condition

By Jesef Williams

Jax BettyBetty Johnson’s lower back pain was so intense that a short walk from her bedroom to the bathroom left her in tears. She was unable to hold her grandchildren and couldn’t stand long enough to cook.

These limitations were part of Johnson’s eight-year history of debilitating back pain and extremely poor posture. Her condition left her depressed. If surgery could relieve some of the pain, she wanted to pursue that option. However, doctors had told her she couldn’t have spine surgery because of her medical history, which included open-heart surgery. 

But Sassan Keshavarzi, M.D., interim chair and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the  College of Medicine –Jacksonville, has an extensive record of treating patients with various chronic conditions. He determined that Johnson’s medical history and current issues would not prevent her from having an operation.

Johnson, 55, had an unstable lumbar spine and had developed high-grade forward slips of two lower-back discs, a condition known as spondylolisthesis. That led to sagittal deformity, which is marked by a poor, slumped-over posture.

“Betty had multiple levels of high-grade spondylolisthesis, leading to a very abnormal posture,” Keshavarzi said. “She was
in excruciating pain and had been in such pain for a long time.”

At UF Health Jacksonville, a two-stage surgical approach was taken to fix Johnson’s spine. The first operation, in conjunction with the cardiothoracic team, involved Keshavarzi entering through her stomach to remove the lower-back discs in the L3-4, L4-5 and L5-S1 spaces. He placed cages and screws in each
of those spaces. Bone graft replaced the removed disc material.

A week later, Keshavarzi entered through Johnson’s back to perform another fusion from the pelvis to the bottom of the thoracic vertebrae, which are in the chest area and attach to the ribs.

The neurosurgery team evaluated Johnson daily during her hospital stay. Since her discharge, she has had regular follow-up appointments and has improved with each visit.

Johnson no longer requires narcotics to control her back pain and has been able to resume her daily activities. That includes cooking, shopping and spending time with some of her youngest loved ones.

“The pain that was in my back — from my lower back all the way down to my feet — is gone. I’m just glad about the way I’m feeling,” she said. “The most important thing is my grandkids. I get to hold them. I can even pick them up now. That was a fantasy for me.”