TOA Testimonials

Mother and Daughter Share Success of Spinal Fusion Surgery

Shannon Rucker Prince, a physical therapist tech from Murfreesboro, loves being newly married. You can see it in her pretty smile.

It was just a short time ago, however, that she was living in pain all of the time. “During my last semester at MTSU, I was thrown against a fence by a cow and injured my back. I found no relief from pain medications or physical therapy. It was a difficult time. I was depressed and losing weight. I couldn’t sleep lying down because it caused severe headaches. I had to sleep in a recliner and with very little sleep, was tired and angry all of the time. It was not a good time in my life, especially for a 24-year-old.”

This is when Shannon turned to Tennessee Orthopaedic Alliance’s Dr. Juris Shibayama in Murfreesboro for help. “We looked at many options to help reduce my pain, and decided that spinal fusion surgery would be the best solution. Within a week of the surgery, I had significantly reduced the amount of pain medicine usually needed and began to walk without any pain.

My energy came back, food was tasty, and I wanted to eat again. Today, I am more active than I used to be and have no pain! In April, I married my best friend, Adam. My life is back!”

Shannon says her experience was “phenomenal” and believes Dr. Shibayama contributed to the success. “My spinal surgeon listened to me, and tried everything he could before even suggesting surgery. But when nothing else worked, he went ahead with the surgery, and I am so grateful for the result. It was so important to have a surgeon who cared about me, and worked with me to find a solution to my back issues.”

Sue Rucker understands her daughter’s pain. She’s been living with back pain for awhile. “I somehow managed to blow out 3 discs in my back over the years,” said the retired psychiatric nurse. “I had the telltale pain running down the back of the leg constantly, I could never find a good position to reduce pain, and medications never helped. I had 3 back surgeries over the years, but couldn’t find relief from back pain agony.”

This is when Sue decided to try a new doctor.

“I chose to see Dr. Shibayama after seeing the great success Shannon was having from her spinal fusion.
I explained to him that I needed to find comfort, and that I was retired and could take the time needed to heal from potential procedures or surgeries. I also knew that because of the damage to my back over the years, any surgery wasn’t going to be quite as simple as Shannon’s surgery. I was amazed when Dr. Shibayama suggested the same spinal fusion that Shannon had. It was like a mother and daughter miracle!”

Sue says she realizes how unusual it is for both a mother and daughter to have the same surgery for the same back problem, especially since they were damaged differently. But today, she is grateful for the coincidence and the result.

Success came for Sue. “After surgery, it was like the difference between night and day. I remember Dr. Shibayama coming in my room the day after my surgery and asking me if there was anything I needed.
I told him yes, please take out the tubes and wires as soon as possible and let me get on my feet. I wanted to walk. He readily agreed and I did so that day. It was the first time I walked without leg pain in a long time and I enjoyed it. Shannon took good care of me, much like I tended to her after her procedure. She drove me to the local mall where I walked inside when the weather was bad, and she made every lap I did.”

Today, Sue is feeling no pain and is able to everything she wants to do. “I am almost 65-years-old, and that brings limitations, but I am now putting out a vegetable garden every year and working with flowers. I am able to walk as much as I want. More importantly, I was able to ride comfortably in a car all the way to Alabama for the birth of my first grandchild, as well as participate in my daughter’s recent wedding.To be free of pain is truly a blessing.”

- Shannon Rucker Prince
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Swimming Through Recovery

Meet avid hiker, skillful canoeist, and competitive swimmer, Peter Fechheimer. Obviously, this energetic 72-year-old is quite the athlete. Along with spending time with his wife, granddaughter, and flat coat retriever, Winnie, Peter loves to train and compete in swim meets, like the U.S. Masters Swimming Events and the Senior Olympics. But after decades of defying pain, one thing eventually pried Peter away from his passions – his left knee.

Peter had been a candidate for knee replacement surgery for about ten years, but was advised to first try using a knee brace to manage pain. Luckily, wearing the brace allowed Peter to temporarily table his knee pain and to uphold his active lifestyle. For ten years, his brace kept hurt away during long-distance hikes, challenging canoe trips, and competitive swimming. But the time came when Peter’s pain outgrew the knee brace. “When it became painful to get around the house or go on walks with my wife, I realized that it was time for surgery.”

On May 14, 2013, Peter underwent knee replacement surgery from Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance’s Dr. Philip Karpos, who Peter deems “An excellent surgeon with a wonderful bedside manner.” With Peter’s athletic lifestyle, Dr. Karpos knew a successful knee replacement surgery meant more than ensuring Peter could walk without pain again. Peter needed to participate in a very physically demanding sport at a competitive level. Dr. Karpos prevailed, and within weeks of surgery, Peter sprung into action once again.

“What was most satisfying was the speed of my recovery and the fact that I could get back to swimming so quickly.” Before his knee replacement, Peter asked Dr. Karpos if he could be ready to compete in a swim meet on June 25, six weeks after his operation. Dr. Karpos told Peter it was possible if he committed to his physical therapy.

As instructed, Peter tore through his physical therapy exercises, and his hard work showed. Four weeks after surgery, Dr. Karpos said Peter could get back in the pool for walking exercises. After a few days of these exercises, Peter started to swim, and was soon able to ease into his normal training routine.

On June 25, just six weeks to the day after his knee replacement, Peter competed in the Tennessee Senior Olympics. “I feel very fortunate to have recovered so quickly. I didn’t have all of my speed or endurance back, but the fact that I could even compete that soon was a big thrill.”

- Peter Fechheimer
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Nashville Artist Has Her Life Back

Lisa Aronow describes herself as a metalsmith, a jewelry designer, a biker (vintage Raleighs) and a wannabe bon vivant. She is filled with spirit and passion, and many of her customers say her jewelry represents that spirit. Lisa has been designing jewelry in Nashville for more than 12 years. She says her high-karat gold and sterling silver pieces are wearable, every day pieces, with a vintage or estate look.

"Women wear my pieces with everything from shorts and t-shirts to formal gowns; you shouldn't need a special occasion to enjoy your jewelry."

Lisa says she comes by her talent naturally; she spent much of her childhood working at her father's jewelry store and learning about antiques and estate jewelry from her mother. Her parents still live in Augusta, Georgia, where Lisa grew up.

Today, Lisa is running from appointment to appointment, and getting ready for a new collection to launch. She is busy, but says she feels like a "freakin' rock star."

That wasn't the case a few years ago. Lisa's active lifestyle caught up with her after three years of debilitating back pain. "I used to snow ski a lot, and I had a bad fall. I also fell down steps moving into my first place in Nashville." It was a series of accidents like these that led the 43-year-old to Tennessee Orthopaedic Alliance.

"I suffered constant back and leg pain for more than two years. I couldn't even get up. When you have that kind of severe pain, it can become very debilitating both mentally and physically, especially if you are used to going and doing lots of things. It was the most unbearable thing I ever experienced in my life."

Lisa says she waited too long to address her back issues. "I had so much damage; it took me a while to come around to the fact of what I really needed. I had other surgeries, I did acupuncture, massage therapy, but nothing ever worked."

That's when Lisa's quest to find a surgeon began. "It didn't matter to me if he was local, or in New York. I just wanted to find the best spine surgeon I could find. I had so much nerve damage. I had crushed vertebrae in my back, and it was pressing against the nerve in my spinal column, creating problems from my back down to my toes. I knew that if I waited any longer to correct the damage, I could be dragging my right foot one day. I knew I needed minimally invasive spinal fusion surgery."

Lisa didn't have to look very far to find the best surgeon for her spine issues. "Dr. Juris Shibayama in Murfreesboro is very highly regarded. I chose to see him based on the recommendations from his colleagues. He has an incredible talent.

I spent five hours on the operating table while Dr. Shibayama untangled my nerve. I was actually walking that same afternoon, without the usual pain. It was pretty significant. Shortly after my surgery I remember getting on the treadmill for 45 minutes. It was a huge deal."

Lisa and Dr. Shibayama are still friends. "He is one of the sweetest people you can imagine.

He is so intelligent, warm and compassionate, and has a wonderful sense of humor. I'm crazy about him, he saved my life, in a way. And he's so smart and fun; he even texted me a year after my surgery to say happy anniversary!"

"I gladly share my experience with others. I tell them not to give up. You don't have to live with pain and physical limitations. I thought that for so long, and accepted that. Today, I feel like I have my life back because of the work he did. It's been divine intervention."

- Lisa Aronow
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My Husband Has His Wife Back

Juanita Cook is an active, healthy, 59 year-old Columbia resident, who just started a new walking program, loves her family, and is grateful for being pain-free.

She spends most days being a caregiver to her 90-year-old blind mother, 83-old-year mother and father-in-law, and Sadie, her precious 7-month old granddaughter.

Not to mention, she’s been happily married to Johnny Cook for the past 41 years.

But three years ago she started feeling pain in her lower back. “This pain didn’t allow me to rest at night, it was hard to sit, walk, and stand. Running was out of the question, going up and down steps painful, getting up and down in a chair, or on the couch were painful and daily activitieswere very limited. Eventually even personal hygiene was difficult,” said Cook.

“I tried pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapyand quarterlysteroid injections.” Unfortunately, these measures only provided Juanita temporary relief. Her sacroiliac joint needed repair.

Hope came for Juanita when she discovered apromising new minimally invasive procedure offered by Tennessee Orthopaedic Alliance’s Dr. Gray Stahlman.

“I was so grateful to find this new option; my face read ‘pain’ with most movements before this surgery.I thank my Lord for leading me to the only specialist in this area, Dr. Gray Stahlman, who God has gifted with the ability to do this precise procedure that has given me my life back. I also thank Dr. Stahlman for doing this procedure for the first time at Williamson Medical Center (WMC), which is where my husband works. I cannot praise both Dr. Stahlman and WMC for the excellent care I received during my surgery and subsequent recovery.”

Today, Juanita exclaims, “Since the surgery, my life has radically changed for the better. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I have my normal life back. My husband has his wife back and my goal was to be able to enjoy my family again. Three months following my ‘miracle surgery’ my first grandchild was born. I have been able to pick her up, move to care for her, and play with her. This would not have been possible without this amazing surgical procedure. Now, my face radiates with joy instead of pain. I truly believe without this surgery, I would be unable to care for myself or anyone else.”

- Juanita Cook
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Independence Restored

Marla Mabin’s career as a pre-school teacher requires a considerable amount of bending, working on the floor, and moving around to interact with little ones ─ an often difficult task for even the healthiest of adults. But with monstrous back pain looming, these tasks became impossible.

Marla’s severe pain began at work, when she moved a sleeping four-year-old out of the way from several children who were playing nearby. All of a sudden, she heard a loud “pop” from her lower back. Over the next few days, the extent of her injury began to make itself known, as Marla experienced swelling and numbness in her legs, feet, toes, and lower back. The pain grew to be so terrible that she was unable to walk without a cane or some sort of support. She could not even get out of bed or take a shower without assistance. “I was in pain constantly and immobile more often than not.” Ceaseless pain and complete dependency upon others led Marla into a depression, which in combination with her lack of mobility, resulted in her gaining more than 75 pounds.

When Marla decided “enough was enough,” she turned to Dr. Gray Stahlman of Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance to reclaim the life she deserved. Dr. Stahlman removed half the disc that was causing a bilateral impingement, and the results were immediate. With her mobility and balance back, Marla says she finally was able to regain her independence. The effects went beyond allowing her to move again; Marla could do all the things she enjoyed, like camping, hiking, and working out. After her operation, Marla lost more than 90 pounds, and at 40 years old, is now in the best shape of her life. Today, she is training for her first women’s figure skating competition, a feat that would have been unthinkable before her procedure.

Marla describes her experience with Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance as amazing, and she appreciates the warm care she received from Dr. Stahlman. “From the moment we met, he immediately set me and my husband at ease with his comforting smile and his smooth, educational approach. The actual surgery and recovery were much easier than I’d anticipated, and he was there each step of the way.” Before her operation, incessant back pain forced Marla to surrender control of her life, but Dr. Stahlman showed Marla and her family hope ─ that pain could be lifted, that mobility could be restored, and that life could continue in its fullest form.

- Marla Mabin
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Dear Dr. Rungee

Just one year after being released to run after an ACL reconstruction and recovery, here I am crossing the finish line of a full, 26.2 mile marathon.

Here's to another successful surgery in your medical records! Thanks so much!!!

- Jennifer R.
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Never, Never, Never Give Up

Lindsey Harrison has just taken off that graduation cap and has big plans in becoming a Registered Nurse in Surgery. She has a loving family of her parents, Kenny and Christa and an older sister Shelby, brother-in-law Richard and little sister Destiny. She is now working part-time as a teller at Citizens Bank of Lafayette. But Lindsey’s life took a turn in January of 2009 during her yearly check-up with her pediatrician where she was diagnosed with scoliosis. After the diagnosis she saw a specialist who had her on a night time brace for 18 months. This brace did not fix her back problem, but to help stabilize her spine from worsening. During the summer of 2011 Lindsey noticed changes in her body such as her hips protruding out, shoulder blade raising up and back pain. She then sought Dr. Christofersen at TOA for a second opinion on her back. “When I talked with him, I knew that surgery was the only way to fix the problem. After careful consideration and many prayers, I agreed to have the surgery.” Lindsey scheduled her hopeful surgery in December 2011 during her Christmas break from school.

Lindsey has bravely had a scoliosis surgery with 11 spinal fusions. “Words cannot begin to describe the amount of pain I experienced from the moment I woke up from surgery. Although it would’ve been easier to stay in bed, I was determined to get over it and not let it keep me down.” Dr. Christofersen set daily goals for Lindsey and she not only met them but far exceeded them. “The day after, I was only asked to stand but I walked across my room to the door and even down the hall. Three days later I was walking without using my walker for assistance. I was released from the hospital earlier (3 nights compared to an estimated week minimum) than I was originally told because of my progress.” Lindsey continued to build her strength at home for a few weeks before arriving to school on time to start the spring semester with her friends. She only missed one day of school for a doctor’s appointment and continued to make all A’s that semester.

Although the surgery was tough, Lindsey says if she knew what she knew now, she would choose the surgery all over again. Her old concern of how her back would progress over the years is long gone. “I no longer have that worry because I know it is fixed and that the fusions have healed correctly. I have also gained back self-confidence that I had lost to the changes in my back. I have no restrictions on what I can do.” Her strength and assurance is shown in her advice to any future patient, “Don’t get discouraged; stay determined to conquer this obstacle and don’t settle for less. Most importantly, never forget where your help comes from.”

- Lindsey Harrison
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