Debra Giesy was able to return to work a week after a mass was removed from her spine

December 01, 2012
Debra Giesy

When Debra Giesy began experiencing lower back pain, she thought it was sciatica, a condition caused by compression of the lumbar or sciatic nerves in the spine. She took ibuprofen and hoped the pain would go away. She never imagined it would lead her to UC Irvine Medical Center.

Giesy endured the pain for two weeks but finally went to see her doctor when she began to feel a tingling sensation in her leg and spine.

“I went to my general practitioner and he injected the area with cortisone,” says the 54-year-old Garden Grove resident. “Even that didn’t dull the pain, so I continued taking ibuprofen. One day, I took 1,000 milligrams at one time. I got so sick from the medication that I went back to my general practitioner and asked for something stronger.”

When the cortisone shot failed to alleviate her symptoms, Giesy’s physician ordered an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test. It revealed a mass in her lower back. Additional tests uncovered nerve damage in the area.

At her doctor’s recommendation, Giesy immediately sought out UC Irvine Health Dr. Daniel S. Yanni, a neurosurgeon who specializes in minimally invasive and complex spine surgeries. Although Giesy’s general practitioner suspected a spinal tumor, Yanni, who is also surgical director of UC Irvine’s Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit, wanted to repeat the imaging before making a final determination.

After a second MRI with a high-resolution scanner, UC Irvine Health diagnostic neuroradiology specialist Dr. Anton Hasso interpreted the mass as a herniated disc. Along with other wear and tear in Giesy’s lower back, the disc damage caused inflammation and scar tissue to form. Yanni recommended going into the spinal column through a key-hole sized incision to remove the mass. With such minimally invasive procedures, performed only at select facilities throughout the country, patients typically are released within hours or days and often are able to return to work within a week or two.

“Dr. Yanni said he would insert tubes into my spine and remove what was pinching my nerve and causing debilitating pain,” says Giesy. “He made it sound so easy and he spoke in terms I could understand.”

Ordinarily, Giesy would have sought a second opinion, but because she was in so much pain and trusted Yanni, she decided to move forward within days of her initial consult.

She’s grateful she did.

“The minute I was out of general anesthesia, I could tell he fixed it,” Giesy recalls of the procedure on Jan. 6, 2011. “It was amazing! I was in a little pain from the surgery but it was much less and a different pain than before.”

Giesy was astonished to be up and walking the same day. She wanted to go home but her husband and Yanni encouraged her to stay overnight for observation. She returned to work within a week.

“I never would have imagined that physicians could perform surgery by little scopes in your body,” marvels Giesy. “Dr. Yanni methodically separated scar tissue from my nerve and removed the mass under it so I wouldn’t have any nerve damage.”

It worked. Today, Giesy says she’s 100 percent recovered and back to her usual gym routine. Best of all, she is pain-free and there’s barely a mark on her. “The incision was only about an inch long,” she says. “After two weeks, you couldn’t even see the scar.”

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