Gary Ruane II has experienced tingling sensations in his arms and hands for years. Doctors ruled out carpal-tunnel syndrome and believed something in his neck was responsible for his loss of feeling. After a sudden jolt that sent pain rippling down his neck, he had spinal fusion. The pain was not relieved by the spinal fusion. He underwent several other surgeries, experienced alarming symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with a condition caused by his bones not healing properly after surgery.
“I learned to live with it,” says the 43-year old mechanic from Chesapeake in Virginia, speaking to TODAY.com. “I did all the physical therapy I was ever required to do. I just never got relief.”
Ruane served in the military from 1993 to 2015. He was stationed at a colleague’s house who had a sibling who was a spine surgeon. When the friend moved close to Ruane, the two reconnected.
“He came to my house and said, ‘Man your neck looks awful. Ruane remembers. “Let me see if my bro can help.” “He put me into contact with his brother, and I flew to see Dr. Clifton. From the very first moment I shook his hands, I knew I was safe.”
Unexplained neck pain and hand numbness
Ruane experienced numbness after sleeping in 2015. His wife initially thought that he had laid on his arms.
“My wife suggested that I may have slept on my stomach, with my hands under me,” he says. “I never sleep like that.”
Ruane went to a doctor who recommended physical therapy. He underwent exploratory carpal tunnel surgery. The doctors did not find the nerve condition. He began to experience pain in his arms, and doctors suggested that repositioning the ulnar (or radial) nerves in his arms could help. Ruane never pursued the treatment and in 2017, his neck began to hurt during a deployment in Bahrain.
“I turned my head suddenly and it was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “It felt as if my spine was grinding against itself,” he says.
Bahrain specialist fused discs in his neck in order to manage the pain that he was experiencing.
Ruane said that initially, it seemed to relieve some of the pain. “Then, it started coming back.”
In 2018, he returned to physical therapy and hoped that his mobility would improve, but the pain in his neck and arms persisted. A spinal cord stimulator was implanted into his neck by another doctor to reduce the pain. When he still didn’t feel any better, his doctor ordered X rays and a CT scanner, and they discovered some bad news.
Ruane reports that “one of the (stimulator paddles) came loose in my spinal column.” “He said he would go back and suture it permanently on my spine in another operation.”
Ruane was disappointed with the stimulator, and asked the doctor to remove it. His buddy, who was stationed near Ruane, called Dr. William Clifton his brother to see if they could help Ruane.
Revision spinal surgery for pseudoarthrosis
Pseudoarthrosis can occur when patients like Ruane undergo spinal surgery in order to fuse discs.
“He had surgery from the front neck in an effort to fuse two spots that have a great deal of arthritis.” The spine orthopedic surgeon and the neurosurgeon from the Center for Spine Health of the Cleveland Clinic told TODAY.com that at the time it was believed that this was causing his neck problems. “If the bones do not spot well together, it can form a small joint or a space between the bone and the bones can rub against each other, causing an extremely pain condition called pseudodarthrosis.”
When Ruane and Clifton met, the surgeon said that Clifton still “had a great deal of residual neck pain as well as a great deal of residual numbness in his arms.”
Clifton says that “his neck fell forward to the point he could not hold his head up properly.” “The spinal stimulator did not work and they had to have an operation to remove it, which caused more trauma to his back of neck.”
Ruane was unable to cope with the daily demands of work and home.
Clifton said, “He was pretty crippled by his pain.”
Clifton ordered tests, including a scan, to determine the symptoms Ruane was experiencing. Clifton did not rely on an MRI which measures the spine when it is in a prone position. He ordered a standing xray instead. It allowed him to see Ruane’s neck in an upright position. Clifton was able to see that the degenerative spine condition had caused nerve compression, causing tingling, numbness and pseudoarthrosis. This condition is most common in people who have had multiple neck or spinal surgeries.
Clifton says, “It does not even have to be symptomatic.” “I think it’s the opposite. Many people have symptoms but don’t get worked up about this problem.
Clifton performed a second surgery on Ruane in order to relieve the man’s discomfort. Ruane also worked with a physical therapy after surgery.
Clifton says, “He could tell the difference immediately when he woken up.” “He did not have any numbness, or tingling. He did have incisional pain but it was different from what he experienced before. He was able hold his neck up.”
Life after surgery
When Ruane woke up, he was stunned by his recovery.
“I recovered a lot quicker than I expected, considering how much I had done,” he says. “The first couple of days were a bit rough.”
He was soon able to resume his normal activities. The “worst thing about my recovery” was the 9-hour drive home. Ruane started physical therapy after three months of rest and not working. Ruane can now look left and right, something he had trouble with before surgery. However, he can’t hold his phone with his shoulder and put his ear to it.
“I’m okay with that, because no one does that anymore,” says he. “It feels great to be honest. I feel so lucky that I was able connect with this surgeon.
Ruane thought that neck and arm pain was just a part of life. He hopes that his story will encourage others to seek out doctors who can offer them solutions for their pain.
“Nothing worked for me so I just accepted that (I had pain)” he says. “Take your time to find the right doctor.”
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