Carrie Harris, Borgess Spine

Pain in Carrie Harris' back was so severe in early 2009 that she was convinced that she needed back surgery.

"Three or four people who had similar pain said they had to have surgery," said Carrie, 36, Community Education Program Coordinator for Vicksburg Community Schools.
Today, thanks to the Borgess Spine Institute, she is pain-free -- without the need for surgery.

Carrie, who had fallen while shopping that winter, tried to treat the pain on her own, but by June she realized that she needed help.

Her physician ordered an MRI and referred her to Borgess Spine. During the first appointment she met and was examined by Dr. Joel Rojas, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation. The MRI, he said, did not show a clear cause of pain.

"Dr. Rojas prescribed injections in my lower back and I had one," she said. "But it didn't help as much as I had hoped." Dr. David Brockman, a fellow Borgess Spine specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, administered both the first and a second injection, which also did not give fully desired results.

Still, Dr. Rojas said, the relief that Carrie felt soon after the injection was a clue to where her problem was likely located, namely the sacroiliac joint.

"The thing that impressed me about Borgess Spine and Drs. Rojas and Brockman was that they really looked for ways to reduce the pain.

"Both Dr. Rojas and Dr. Brockman were very upfront about what they were trying to do and they never pretended to have all the answers. The spine is very complex and I was pleased that the doctors in the office worked together.

"I never felt rushed during my appointments and Dr. Rojas always made sure I understood what procedures they wanted to do and why.

“And I always felt that I was in control of my medical decisions.”

Carrie said that one evening she called Borgess Spine with a question and Dr. Rojas himself called her back that same day. "Physicians don't always do that," she said.

Despite the injections, Carrie could still barely walk and began to assume she was a candidate for surgery.

Dr. Rojas said that because he suspected that the source of the pain was the sacroiliac joint, he prescribed physical therapy and referred her to Colleen Ackerman at Borgess at Woodbridge.

"I worked with Colleen for about two months after the first of the year and she was very good," Carrie said. "She was amazing."

Colleen primarily employed the McKenzie Method, where Carrie learned specific exercises that were designed to relieve pressure on spinal nerves.

“The McKenzie Method treats more than the nerve problem,” Dr. Rojas said. “It also puts the body in a more anatomically tolerable position.”
Carrie not only did the exercises while she was with Colleen but at home and at work.

"Every hour at work I would go into a little room and do the exercises," she said. "Over time the pain just got better. And today I am pain-free! If I do have a little discomfort, Colleen taught me exercises that take the pain away. She also taught me ways to lift and sit and squat properly so that I won't hurt my back."

Dr. Rojas said that much of the success was the result of Carrie’s dedication to following the exercise program. “We can make recommendations but if the patient doesn’t follow them they may not get relief. That’s important. Sometimes patients come to us and say they aren’t feeling any better and we ask, ‘Have you been doing the exercises?’ and they say, well, no.

“Carrie did very well because she was motivated and did her part.”

Dr. Rojas had scheduled a follow-up appointment for Carrie in April, but the physical therapy worked so well that she cancelled the appointment.

"I am very pleased with Borgess Spine, Dr. Rojas and with Colleen," Carrie said.

A native of Kalamazoo, Carrie has worked for Vicksburg schools, with a two-year absence, since 2000. Her husband Mike is children’s pastor at Lighthouse Community Church in Oshtemo.