Jonathan Harrison of Waycross, Georgia, is getting used to a new life; one that will not include constant pain. The 39-year-old spent 20 years working in construction, including pulling cable and working on a bucket truck. The physical labor took a toll on his body. Five years ago, he began experiencing neck pain. By February 2016, the pain was non-stop and unbearable.
“It hurt to breathe,” said Jonathan. “It felt like someone had their thumbs on each side of my neck and was just grinding them into my neck and shoulders.”
He and his wife, Heather, visited a family doctor in Waycross. Jonathan was diagnosed with bulging discs, bone spurs, and arthritis in his neck. He was referred to a specialist in Brunswick, but the doctor was hesitant to try injections or surgery on that part of the spine because he said it could leave Jonathan paralyzed. He recommended physical therapy.
Unfortunately, the physical therapy didn’t help and Jonathan’s quality of life dwindled. The pain was so bad he couldn’t work, drive, or sleep. Even simple tasks such as picking up the family’s small dog or lifting laundry from the washer to the dryer caused extreme pain.
“I was scared to leave him alone because he couldn’t do anything without help. I have to travel a lot for work, and I would have to find people to help him,” said Heather.
They decided to get another medical opinion. The Harrisons met with Dmitri Sofianos, M.D., a surgeon at Chatham Orthopaedic Associates and part of the Memorial Health University Medical Center Spine Center. They immediately knew they were in good hands.
“He seemed confident that he could help us with surgery. He does several neck procedures a week, so he’s very experienced,” said Heather.
“Dr. Sofianos explained everything. I knew exactly what to expect. He left no stone unturned,” said Jonathan. To prepare for surgery, Jonathan did additional physical therapy and attended a pre-surgery education class.
On June 13, 2016, he underwent an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Sofianos accessed the spine through the front of Jonathan’s neck. He removed two damaged discs, inserted metal spacers where they had been, and fused the vertebrae together. The entire procedure took about three hours. Jonathan spent one night at Memorial Health University Medical Center and returned home the next day. He felt immediate relief. The severe pain that he had lived with for months was suddenly bearable.
He did more physical therapy in the months following surgery. Within three months, he felt like he was getting his life back again.
“I feel great! I still have a bad day every now and then, but the pain is nothing like it used to be. Dr. Sofianos said I still have limitations right now and it can take about a year to feel the full effect of the surgery,” said Jonathan.
Today, he can comfortably move his neck up, down, left, and right. And, he no longer has a sensation of bones grinding together when he moves. Best of all, he’s regaining his independence and quality of life. Even Heather says it’s great to have her husband back.
Jonathan has advice for anybody living with debilitating neck pain: Don’t keep suffering. Have the surgery. It’s worth it.