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Seventeen years ago, Scott Norsted, age 71, underwent back surgery in Atlanta to restore his quality of life and return to the things he loved – a good game of golf, traveling the world and cooking.
Unfortunately, he continued to suffer from sciatic nerve and back pain for nearly two more decades. In 2015, when the pain got dramatically worse, the Charleston resident sought out medical assistance from MUSC Health’s Spine Center team.
Dr. Stephen Kalhorn, an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at MUSC, and nurse practitioner Holly Gardner, FNP, worked closely with Scott to determine how best to return him to his former quality of life and reduce his pain. Initially, they referred him to an MUSC Health pain specialist for epidural steroid injections, which worked well and relieved Scott’s pain for 18 months.
“Dr. Kalhorn and Holly develop a real sense of confidence in their patients,” said Scott. “They gave me all of the options and did not push me toward surgery. Instead, they promoted me toward good medicine.”
In June 2017, Scott returned to Dr. Kalhorn because the pain in his back and right leg had presented themselves again. Following an MRI, it was determined that Scott now had a herniated disc and further injections were prescribed. Dr. Kalhorn advised that if this latest round of injections did not work, that surgery was advised.
Finally, Scott’s pain had reached a new threshold and he knew that he needed to schedule surgery with Dr. Kalhorn in order to return to his feet and the life he had once known. Scott called Dr. Kalhorn on a Friday and he was in surgery by Monday. Surgery included a decompression of his herniated disc.
Following his MUSC surgery, Scott spent some time healing. However, he did not require any rehabilitation or even an overnight stay at the hospital. In fact, he shared that he immediately felt so much like his “old self.”
“We were able to offer Mr. Norsted a minimally invasive surgery,” said Dr. Kalhorn. “This involved placing a wire and then a small, 18 millimeter tube down to his spine. We were able to remove a large disk herniation that was crushing a nerve in his back and he has done quite well. I am grateful to work at MUSC, surrounded by such a wonderful team that strives each day to provide the best patient care possible.”
Now, nearly four months after surgery, Scott’s pain level has gone from a constant seven or eight (on a 10 scale) to an occasional slight pain he describes as a one. For fun, he’s planning a few international cruises and rounds of golf over the next few months.
Since having his surgery, Scott has moved to Greenville, S.C. However, he still keeps in touch closely with Dr. Kalhorn through online communications, phone calls and visits to Charleston. “What I like best about MUSC and Dr. Kalhorn is that they took care of my pain problem,” said Scott. “And their approach to medicine.”
Nancy Lamb is energized to overcome a debilitating paralysis caused by a rare disease called Cauda Equina Syndrome. Once a very active woman who enjoyed weekly cookouts and socializing with friends in the neighborhood, she became paralyzed from the waist down. “I had worked and been independent for so many years,” Nancy said. “I was devastated when I just woke up one day and couldn’t walk. When I met with Dr. Varma at MUSC Health, I knew I had a shot at getting better and that I was in great hands.”
Nancy underwent multiple surgeries at MUSC under the care of Dr. Abhay Varma. “Mrs. Lamb had severely pinched nerves in her lower back that significantly affected her legs, bladder, and bowel function,” he said. “She was not able to walk independently and take care of herself. The disease was so extensive that she had to undergo more than one surgery, but eventually she significantly benefited from the treatment and is now able to walk on her own. The pain and numbness in her legs has also significantly improved.”
Nancy felt very at ease with Dr. Varma and all of her providers at MUSC Health. “Dr. Varma was very compassionate. He never approached my surgery negatively and always made sure I understood everything. He got me walking again! I am so thankful to him and his physician assistant, Patricia Mathias, for always responding so quickly to my questions, and all of the MUSC Health providers who made the process as well as the procedures so comforting to me.”
Last year, Steve Dye thought he might lose the ability to walk after a thoracic disk ruptured, putting extreme pressure on his spinal cord. Dye was using a cane to get around when a doctor told him he needed specialized surgery. Dye chose the MUSC Spine Center.
Five months later, he was able to rejoin his softball team for a game that had an ending that could have come straight from a movie. “I find myself standing in the softball field all by myself,” Dye wrote in a testimonial to the doctors at the MUSC Health Spine Center. “My team was with me seconds ago, but they have all run off the field.”
Then he heard clapping. It was his fellow softball players. They knew he’d gone from being afraid that he’d end up paralyzed to being able to walk normally again.
“As I fight back tears, I realize the applause is for me,” Dye wrote. “I must pass it on to the doctors, nurses, friends, and family who made it possible for me to be standing on that field.”
Dye’s surgeon, Stephen Kalhorn, M.D., said that’s the kind of story that makes him love coming to work each morning. “It reaffirms our cause,” the complex spine surgeon said. “We take on the most challenging of cases, the most advanced spinal issues that come from across South Carolina and the Southeast United States. The reward for this is seeing your patients doing well.”
Dye, whose thoracic spine surgery turned him into a “walking medical miracle,” as his friends call him, wants other people with spine problems to know that there is hope.
It’s often not a one-stop fix. Dye struggled with back problems for years and is still not able to do everything he’d like to do. “Although I have now ‘mastered’ walking, I still have a goal to be able to run again,” he writes. “Would somebody please tell me I can't do it! It will motivate me to make it happen. I will run again!”
Kalhorn said he should be able to. “I think Mr. Dye is doing great.”