Keith Feidler says we're living in a time of medical miracles—and he should know. After having a successful heart transplant, he resumed an active lifestyle, including playing 18 holes of golf twice a week.
But everything came to a halt when he injured his vertebra—one of the boney blocks that compose the spine. "I got out of bed one morning, lost my balance, turned quickly to steady myself, and knew right away that something serious had happened," says Keith. "The pain in my back was awful." The 67-year-old Long Beach resident was transported by paramedics to Long Beach Memorial where emergency department doctors assessed his condition with X-rays and other tests. Their diagnosis: a fractured vertebra in the small of his back.
Until recently, the only treatment for this painful problem was bed rest, pain medication and a back brace. But today, a minimally invasive procedure called balloon kyphoplasty has given thousands of patients a new lease on life.
"When I learned about the procedure, I knew it was a good choice," says Keith, who underwent balloon kyphoplasty shortly after he was admitted to Long Beach Memorial. The one-hour procedure was performed by Long Beach Memorial radiologist Cheryl Hoffman, M.D. It took place in one of the hospital’s interventional radiology suites—not an operating room—and required only two tiny incisions. During the procedure, Dr. Hoffman guided a miniature balloon through a hollow tube into the center of the injured vertebra. Then the balloon was carefully inflated, coaxing the collapsed vertebra and bone fragments into a normal position. Once the vertebra was stabilized, the balloon was deflated and removed, leaving an empty space. This cavity was filled with specially formulated acrylic bone cement, restoring the vertebra’s shape and strength. "Once the fracture is stabilized, any related spinal deformity is corrected," says Dr. Hoffman. "As a result, patients experience significant pain reduction and a marked improvement in mobility, thus increasing their overall quality of life."
"It was incredible," says Keith, who was surprised that his damaged vertebra could be repaired through two incisions no larger than pin pricks. He also learned first-hand that normal daily activities such as twisting or coughing can cause the bones in the spine to collapse suddenly if they've been weakened by osteoporosis or certain other conditions. If left untreated, one fractured vertebra often leads to another, typically resulting in height loss, reduced lung capacity, a compressed abdominal cavity and eventually a condition known as "dowager’s hump."
For Keith, balloon kyphoplasty has once again confirmed his belief in miracles. Only two weeks after having the procedure, he participated in the American Heart Association’s Walk-A-Thon, hiking more than three miles during the event to raise more than $2,000 for the organization. He’s also looking forward to getting back on the golf course for his customary twice-weekly games. "The doctors and nurses who took care of me at Long Beach Memorial were such good people," says Keith. "They helped me get back into the game again."