Sunday, July 21, 2013 —
PINEHURST – In January 2007, Candi Pearce spent 10 days in a Florida hospital after a 10-hour surgery for the chronic pain in her lower back, the result of a fall the previous October.
Pearce left the hospital with a back reinforced by cages, plates and screws, but still in pain. She tried prescription medications supplemented by over-the-counter pain relievers, steroid shots, chiropractic, radiofrequency and acupuncture. Nothing provided anything more than temporary relief.
An unexpected conversation with the friend of a friend at a Florida dog show eventually led Pearce to Charles S. Haworth, M.D., a neurosurgeon at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, and a minimally invasive procedure that immediately relieved her pain.
“As soon as I woke up (from surgery), the pain all the way down to my feet was gone,” Pearce says.
“(The surgery has made) a huge, dramatic difference.”
Dr. Haworth has used the same innovative technique to treat patients with spinal stenosis, ruptured discs and vertebrae that have slipped out of place since September of last year at Moore Regional. A pioneer in the procedure, he uses three-dimensional images and computer navigation software that allow him to take his surgical tools exactly where they need to be – without the need for a long incision.
“Before we had these new tools and techniques, spine surgeons used to think that a long recovery was unavoidable and that patients’ ongoing back pain and stiffness were likely but necessary risks,” he says.
“Now most of our patients are up and around the next day and back to their normal activities months earlier than before. Even I’m amazed by the advances we’re able to offer patients today.”
In addition to complex software and real-time three-dimensional images, spinal navigation technology uses a pencil-like pointing device to map the spine in a major advancement that works like the GPS navigation systems used in vehicles and cell phones. During a procedure, the surgeon places the pointing device at various locations along the patient’s skin directly above the spine and the device transmits the locations to a computer, which maps each point onto three-dimensional video images.
The software compares these real-time images with earlier CT scans that were used to create the surgical plan, and the computer guides the surgeon to the precise area that needs repair. From this point, the surgery involves the tiny cameras and tools that are common to many minimally invasive surgeries of today.
Research has shown that this type of surgery reduces the risk of infection and the need for blood transfusions. It also eliminates the large incision of traditional spine surgery, which can damage muscles and cause painful scar tissue.
“This technique allows us to slip tools in between the muscles, perform a repair and slip out again,” Dr. Haworth says.
“We knew exactly where everything was in Mrs. Pearce’s spine so we could go right to it.”
Pearce was amazed by the differences in her two surgeries. After the first, traditional surgery in Florida and a subsequent 10-day hospitalization, “I had to have a girl friend come wash my hair,” she recalls. After the procedure with Dr. Haworth at Moore Regional, she left the hospital on the third day.
“By the third day, I had already showered and been out of bed myself, without help, and walking the halls,” she says.
“There was a huge, huge difference.”
The relief she has experienced and her quick recovery from surgery have been especially important to Pearce who breeds and shows champion Golden Retrievers. Until her surgery at Moore Regional, she had reached the point where she could no longer go into a ring with a male dog. There were also times when she would have to leave work and go home to put ice to her back.
“I was losing two or three hours a day,” she says.
“It was a nightmare. Thank God, I own my own business.”
Pearce says she got “really, really lucky” when she met a professional acquaintance of Dr. Haworth’s at the 2012 Eukanuba Dog Show in Orlando. After he told her about Dr. Haworth and his procedure, Pearce and husband Dick were quickly on a plane to North Carolina and a neurosurgical consultation in Pinehurst.
A battery of MRIs, CTs and other tests followed, and a “very upfront” Dr. Haworth told Pearce that he wasn’t sure he could help her. Two days later, after further evaluation, he told her that he could. Two months after that, Pearce was back at Moore Regional for the surgery that has made a “huge, dramatic difference” in her life.
Another positive to the experience involves the Pearces’ introduction to the Clara McLean House at FirstHealth. Dick stayed at the FirstHealth hospitality house while Candi was in the hospital, and both were welcomed there for a few days more after a physical therapist determined Candi was not quite ready for the long car ride home.
“To be able to use the McLean House when I so desperately needed it was a real privilege,” Candi says.
“It was easy for Dick to come see me and spend time with me.”
Her husband agrees. He says the atmosphere provided by Clara’s House staff, volunteers and other guests reminded him of a large family.
“You met people there,” he says.
“You shared something with these other folks who were there for someone in the hospital. Instead of a hotel, where you would have nobody, here was a family where you had something in common.”
The Pearces left Pinehurst after Dr. Haworth’s physician assistant, Louisa Stewart, P.A., made a Clara’s House “house call” to make sure that Candi was ready to go. Candi has since returned for a brief follow-up visit with Dr. Haworth and now has been released from his care.
“I am fantastic; I am wonderful,” she says.
“I can’t rave enough about the experience. It has changed my entire life.”