By Jeff Harrison
Family time is a happy time for Sylvia Cavazos.
Especially if it means seeing her young grandchildren or cooking her homemade tortillas for loved ones.
But those joyous times became few and far between for the Midwest City woman. She had experienced severe neck pain for several years, but started having trouble with her balance and ability to grip. She fell several times and developed numbness and pain in her hands and feet.
The unexplained pain was taking over her life. Symptoms gradually increased after several months.
Simple tasks such as brushing her teeth, buttoning a shirt, or walking around her home became a challenge. The final straw came when she nearly dropped her young granddaughter.
“Luckily, my granddaughter was sitting next to me and helped me catch her,” she said. “After that, I thought I can’t even hold her or enjoy her. I felt so useless.”
Cavazos went to see her primary care physician, who then referred her to Dr. Timothy Rathbun, M.D., a neurologist at AllianceHealth Deaconess. Rathbun believed she suffered from cervical myelopathy, which is damage to the spinal cord in the neck. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis.
“I remember when she came in, she had all the signs (of cervical myelopathy) that any trained neurologist would pick up on,” Rathbun said. “And because it progresses over time, one day you can be walking normally and the next day you’re not.”
Because the condition must be repaired surgically, Rathbun referred her to Dr. Frank Hux, a neurosurgeon at AllianceHealth Medical Group in Midwest City. He also told Cavazos she needed to use a walker.
Cavazos later met with Hux, who diagnosed her having cervical myelopathy from spinal stenosis. Hux said a herniated disc was compressing her spinal cord, and she was only a fall away from paralysis.
“Every time she falls, she’s causing little micro trauma to the spinal cord and bruising it over and over again,” Hux said. “Someone with this condition needs to be seen sooner rather than later.”
Hux recommended that she have surgery the next day, and Cavazos agreed. Hux enlisted help from experts in spinal instrumentation and a neuromonitoring for the procedure.
The surgery went smoothly, as so did the recovery.
Cavazos said she immediately felt better after the surgery. And after about a week of physical therapy, she was almost back to her old self.
“People at physical therapy were surprised at how well I was doing,” she said. “They could not believe that I had made that much improvement after surgery.”
Hux said stories like Cavazos’ are not unheard of, but said many people who undergo surgery to repair cervical myelopathy see no improvement or their systems continue to worsen.
“Squeezing the actual tissues in the spinal cord is not the only problem,” he said. “It also cuts off the blood supply to the spinal cord. And it cuts off the supply of nutrients to the tissue and doesn’t allow the blood vessels to take the bad stuff away. Timing is everything with cervical myelopathy . The longer it goes on, the more likely a person will have a bad outcome.”
Cavazos thanks Hux and Rathbun and everyone at the hospital for giving her life back.
“These doctors and everyone at the hospital are such a blessing,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything before. I felt so useless. And my quality of life was terrible.”
Cavazos said she’s spending as much time as possible with her family. And of course, making plenty of fresh tortillas.