Back in the saddle at 80 years old

It was an emotional moment for Dolly Anderson, almost 80 years old and eight months removed from doing what she loved most, riding horses.
“I got tears in my eyes,” Anderson said, reflecting on the moment when Dr. Paul Kim, an orthopedic surgeon at Palomar Health, gave her medical clearance to mount her horse again. “I said ‘oh can I?’ I was just ecstatic.”
Dr. Kim had performed minimally invasive back surgery on Anderson in November 2016 at Palomar Medical Center Escondido to correct “the worst pain I’ve felt in my life,” according to Anderson.
The pain started one day while walking with her son and daughter-in-law in Carlsbad.
“I’ll never forget it. My feet went numb. I felt pins and needles down my leg. I almost fell to the ground,” Anderson said.
“My son asked, ‘what’s wrong mom?’ I had no idea,” Anderson said.
The symptoms got worse. She tried chiropractic and massage, but nothing worked. She suffered with the pain for six months, saying it was like “walking on burning coals.” She felt pain when walking, sitting, or standing, and the pain was so severe she had to stop riding.
Eventually she found her way to Dr. Kim. After an MRI revealed a piece of bone was hooked on her spine, Dr. Kim recommended what’s technically called a Minimally Invasive Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion (TLIF) to be performed at Palomar Medical Center Escondido. A spine fusion involves using a bone graft to fuse together degenerate vertebrae so that they will heal into a single, solid bone. Surgery is always a last resort after less intrusive measures fail.
There are multiple ways to perform a spine fusion but Dr. Kim recommended a TLIF, following Palomar Health’s pathway to get patients back doing what they love as soon as possible.
“Performing a TLIF allows us to access specific points in the spine without causing unnecessary harm to the surrounding tissue and muscle.   I can use small incisions that act as portals for the smaller instruments to pass through,” says, Dr. Kim. The procedure reduces patient trauma because there is no movement of muscle, tissues, and organs and all that accelerates the rehabilitation process.
Palomar Health’s Orthopedic and Spine Center follows a care pathway that consists of preparing patients for their hospital stay and reducing the pain typically associated with surgery, all through a dedicated care team that surrounds the patient at each step. 
  • Surgery Preparation: The patient is sent to an educational class that makes them part of the medical team. They are taught how to prepare their house for when they return, what to eat, and what the pain and rehabilitation will be like.
  • Pain Control: By following an evidence based plan for pain control, patients are often surprised at how well they feel after surgery. In many cases, patients begin rehabilitation the same day as surgery.
  • Dedicated Care Team: Patients benefit from having a dedicated spine care team who has developed expertise in all phases of the surgical and recovery process.
“We never stop trying to perfect the experience,” Dr. Kim said.
The results are fewer complications, quicker rehabilitations, and more time spent enjoying life, especially critical for patients of advanced ages.
Anderson is now riding regularly at the Valley Center stable where she borders three horses. She’s still under a modified program designed to get her back to 100% less than one year after surgery.
“I feel fantastic. I feel 35 years old. I’m doing things 20 and 30 year old women aren’t doing.”
Dolly’s decision to have a spinal fusion has turned out exceptional for her as it has for thousands of others. Spinal fusions are dramatically superior today than they were even a decade ago. However, the decision to have any type of back surgery should not be taken lightly. Surgery should only be pursued after careful consideration between the patient and provider and only when the patient is certain they have run out of other options.
Palomar Health is a great option for patients with back and neck pain.  

They deliver complete care, ranging from non-surgical treatments that pinpoint pain at the source, to minimally invasive surgery that resolves complex conditions with lasting results. The multidisciplinary team works together in utilizing state-of-the-art methods and fostering a caring environment, helping patients get back to everyday activity as quickly, comfortably, and safely as possible. 

Photo caption: Following lower back surgery at Palomar Medical Center Escondido, Dolly Anderson was able to get back to doing what she loves, riding horses, at the age of 80.

If Donna's story inspired you, give now to the Palomar Health Foundation to help other patients like her. Contact us at 760.739.2787 to discuss any gift opportunities.