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Peg Sarantos, Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Peg Sarantos, 62 going on 50, bubbles with energy.

A 1971 graduate of the University of Michigan physical education program, Peg's life has been defined by activity. Snow-blow the drive? No way. Get her the shovel. Go for a walk? Yep. Two or three times a day.

So the day the sharp pain struck in spring 2010, radiating down her left leg, it came as a shock.

"I hadn't done anything wrong," said Peg, a Holland native who trains employees at the Social Security Disability office in Kalamazoo. "I hadn't lifted anything heavy or moved the wrong way.

"I couldn't lift my leg to put my shoe on. The pain would wake me up at night. And when I was awake I couldn't go back to sleep. I don't like pain medications. The only relief was when I stood."

Initially tempted to tough it out, she finally gave in and visited her ProMed physician. The doctor ordered an MRI, which revealed a bulging disc in a lower vertebra.

"I had no clue where to go for further care," she said, and was referred to Borgess Spine. She was seen first by Dr. David J. Brockman, a specialist in physician medicine and rehabilitation. Over subsequent weeks she tried physical therapy and two separate injections of steroids, none of which brought relief.

Dr. Brockman referred her to Dr. Hunter G. Brumblay, a specialist in neurological surgery whose emphasis is on minimally invasive surgery.

His conclusion: Surgery.

"I hesitated because so many people told me to never have back surgery," she said. "But my sciatica was causing me pain all the time."

Her decision to have the surgery was also based on the fact that she was impressed by the caring and professional attitude of both Dr. Brockman and Dr. Brumblay. "Both doctors showed real interest in me as a person," she said. "When I went to an appointment they would come in and sit down and I never got the impression that they only had a few minutes to spare. I never felt that.

"They would ask, 'How can I help you? What don't you understand?' I was blown away. They always took the time to tell me exactly what they were going to do."

Dr. Brumblay said that the surgery he would do had an 85% success rate, very good odds for someone like Peg, who always sees the glass half full.

She had surgery, a minimally invasive lumbar foraminotomy, on Oct. 15, 2010, at Borgess Medical Center. "When I woke up in recovery I thought, 'Oh, my gosh. The pain is gone!' I was ready to go home and rake."

Dr. Brumblay, however, suggested that she take it easy for two weeks. She almost did, retuning to work a little before the two weeks were up.

Dr. Brumblay said that Peg was an ideal candidate for the minimally invasive procedure. "It's the right solution for the right patient with the right problem," he said.

The foramin are spaces between vertebrae where nerve roots exit the spinal canal. If the space is narrowed, for a variety of reasons that includes a disc problem, it can put pressure on the nerves and trigger pain.

Dr. Brumblay said that while Peg had a bulging disc, it was not the disc that was pressing on the nerves and causing her pain. Rather, there was compression around the nerve group from ligaments and bone.

In the procedure, Dr. Brumblay made a small incision in Peg lower back and gently moved aside muscles to gain access to her backbone. "I drilled off a little bit of bone and removed ligament and bone to enlarge the opening, taking pressure off of the nerves," he said.

"Peg did remarkably well. She is such an active, up-beat person, it was hard to see her with that pain."

A minimally invasive lumbar foraminotomy is an outpatient procedure.

"I am very happy with the care I received," Peg said of the operation and care at Borgess. "The surgery was quite successful and I have no restrictions now … and no pain. I will talk to anyone about how well I did and the care I received."

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