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Recognizing fractured vertebrae key to proper treatment

  • balloon02p

    St. Luke's Hospital's Dr. Thomas Andreshak, left, treated Perrysburg resident Ginny Sturgill, 78, with Balloon Kyphoplasty, a procedure used to stabilize the spine after an injury.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • balloon02p-2

    Perrysburg resident Ginny Sturgill, 78, discusses being treated by St. Luke's Hospital's Dr. Thomas Andreshak with Balloon Kyphoplasty. The doctor uses a catheter to deliver a small balloon to the spine, which inflates and deposits a small amount of specialized cement to stabilize the injured area.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • balloon02p-3

    St. Luke's Hospital's Dr. Thomas Andreshak.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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When Virginia Sturgill started feeling back pain, she wrote it off as a sprain or a strain, then maybe as symptoms of a heart attack. When X-rays and other tests came back with no clear diagnosis, she went home, hoping the symptoms would subside.

Then several weeks later, after a day spent line-dancing and in a Zumba dance class, something changed.

balloon02p-2

Perrysburg resident Ginny Sturgill, 78, discusses being treated by St. Luke's Hospital's Dr. Thomas Andreshak with Balloon Kyphoplasty. The doctor uses a catheter to deliver a small balloon to the spine, which inflates and deposits a small amount of specialized cement to stabilize the injured area.

The Blade/Katie Rausch
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“I came home with the most awful pain,” recalled Mrs. Sturgill, 78, of Perrysburg. “I thought I had pulled something, but it just kept getting worse and worse.”

After follow-up tests, she was diagnosed with fractured vertebrae and underwent a procedure called a balloon kyphoplasty at St. Luke’s Hospital in September, 2014. She had previously been diagnosed with osteoporosis. 

It’s a common injury that is becoming even more prevalent, said Dr. Thomas Andreshak, an orthopedic surgeon who treated Mrs. Sturgill.

“Osteoporosis is becoming very, very prevalent, the patient population is aging, the geriatric patient is significantly aging,” he said.

balloon02p-3

St. Luke's Hospital's Dr. Thomas Andreshak.

The Blade/Katie Rausch
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The kyphoplasty procedure involves expanding a balloon to separate the collapsed vertebrae and inserting a cement to fuse the bones in place so they can heal. It was developed 20 years ago and has since become his standard of care, Dr. Andreshak said.

“Prior to kyphoplasty if you had a fracture you would be put on pain pills, lay around in bed, go to the nursing home for 4-6 weeks until the fracture started to heal,” he said. “But that was a lot of debility for the patients. Laying around weakens your bones, weakens your muscles further.”

He performs 150 of these procedures per year, up from 50 to 70 procedures 10 years ago, he said. 

Recognizing such injuries is critical to getting patients appropriate care. Only about one-third of vertebral fractures come to clinical attention, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

Like Mrs. Sturgill, patients might downplay pain if they haven’t fallen or had another traumatic injury, Dr. Andreshak said. Patients might experience atypical symptoms such as chest or rib pain, or confuse it with a kidney stone. 

“If we could recognize it sooner, we could treat it quicker, get the patient back to activities with maybe fewer problems,” he said.

After the procedure, Mrs. Sturgill recalled an instant sense of relief. 

“I walked out of the hospital an hour later with no pain and with two little bandages on my back,” she said. “I could have done anything the next day.”

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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