Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Spine Surgery: A Family Affair

A Second Opinion, A Better Result

Sherry Acquaviva knew she shouldn’t overexert herself. But, the carpets in her house needed cleaning and she thought she could handle the task. Unfortunately, she soon found herself with disturbing symptoms like arm and hand numbness along with difficulty turning her head. When she grew tired of pain controlling her life, she saw a doctor, who diagnosed her with a herniated disc at the base of her neck. “The surgeon gave me only one option: to take a piece of bone from my hip, and fuse it to my cervical spine in place of the herniated disc,” explains Ms. Acquaviva. “That wasn’t appealing to me, as it would require me to undergo and recover from two surgeries. Plus, there would be no way to replace the bone from my hip.”

Ms. Acquaviva sought a second opinion from Reginald Davis, MD, FACS, Division Head of Neurosurgery at GBMC’s Greater Baltimore Neurosurgical Associates (GBNA) practice, and things started looking up. “Dr. Davis made me feel completely at ease about my surgery and gave me several options. Together, we decided that the best treatment for me was to implant a donor bone rather than use bone from my own hip.” Ms. Acquaviva’s surgery was a great success that yielded immediate relief, and her experience ultimately helped her aunt, Margie Russo, find relief from her excruciating back pain as well.

Developing the Best Treatment Plan for Each Patient

Margie Russo was no stranger to spine surgery and that’s why she was afraid to have it again. In 2005, she underwent invasive surgery at another hospital to remove a spinal cord tumor that could have left her paralyzed if not treated. The open procedure required an incision made directly into the spinal cord, resulting in nerve damage that left Ms. Russo with chronic pain.

“I’m used to the pain I experience due to the nerve damage; I can tolerate it,” says Ms. Russo. But her usual pain became unbearable after she lifted a large piece of luggage during a recent vacation. “I felt something pull. Then, my back began to spasm and I started having extreme pains shoot down my left leg,” recalls Ms. Russo. “It hurt to sit, stand or walk. Anything I did was excruciating.” Ms. Russo was told that, on top of her nerve damage and chronic pain, she had a herniated disc as well. She attempted physical therapy, acupuncture sessions and even met with a neurosurgeon to try to find solutions for her pain. When none of the options offered relief, her niece, Ms. Acquaviva, recommended that she make an appointment with Dr. Davis.

Ms. Russo explained her concerns about surgery with Dr. Davis. “I did not want to have a completely open incision that would expose the surrounding anatomy of my spine,” she says. “The first neurosurgeon I visited said open surgery was my only choice, but I was afraid another invasive surgery would cause more painful nerve damage.”

After listening to Ms. Russo’s worries, Dr. Davis proposed an alternative. He believed a minimally invasive spine surgery called microdiscectomy was the best route to remove the damaged portion of the disc. “This procedure requires a much smaller incision than traditional surgery,” says Dr. Davis. “We perform the same amount of surgery, but with smaller incisions, so there is less tissue damage, less blood loss and a shorter hospital stay.”

Though Ms. Russo continues to feel some of the chronic pain she had prior her most recent injury, the microdiscectomy immediately relieved the excruciating pain caused by the herniated disc. “Mentally and physically, I’m back to normal,” she says. “Thanks to Dr. Davis, I can now do essential everyday activities, like sit down to pay my bills, without suffering unbearable pain. Hopefully, no one else in our family will ever need spine surgery, but if that time comes, Sherry and I already know who we’ll recommend!”

Learn More

For additional information about the services offered by GBNA, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262).

Pumpkin Butter

  • 3 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, or 1 (29 ounce) can (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup apple cider or juice
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1-2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (to taste)

Combine pureed pumpkin, vanilla, apple cider or juice, spices, cinnamon sticks and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently. Adjust spices to your taste. Makes 3 3/4 cups.

Servings: 30 • Serving Size: 2 tbsp • Calories: 32 • Fat: 0.1 g • Protein: 0.5 g • Carb: 9.5 g • Fiber: 1.3 g • Sugar: 8 g • Sodium: 3.5 g

Recipe courtesy of

Trick or Treating Safety

It’s almost that time of year when you see crowds of mini ghouls and goblins crowding the streets yelling, “Trick or Treat!” Before you let your little one loose this year, keep in mind these tips to help make it a fun and safe holiday.
  • Make sure your child is seen. Many costumes can be dark in color, making it hard for drivers to see your child. Have him wear a glow bracelet, carry a flashlight or even add a strip of reflective tape right onto his costume for extra visibility.
  • Plan a route. In daylight, walk the neighborhood so you’re aware of any obstacles such as broken sidewalks. Stay in neighborhoods you’re familiar with so you can navigate safely in the dark.
  • Try to avoid costumes that drag on the ground. These could end up tripping up little feet or getting caught in the neighbor’s bushes.
  • Be sure to accompany your child or send them with a responsible adult that you trust.
  • Only visit houses that are lit. Often residents turn off their lights if they aren’t willing to receive trick or treaters. Respect their privacy.
  • Always inspect candy before your child eats any. Throw away any candy that has been opened or you suspect has been tampered with in any way. Also avoid consuming homemade treats unless you personally know the family who made them.
Keep these safety tips in mind and you’re sure to have a memorable Halloween with your little one this year!

In My Words: Postpartum Doula Experience

When Kelly Lyles found out she was pregnant with twins, she was shocked and overwhelmed. Expanding from a family of three to a family of five in just a few short months was bound to be a challenge. This is her story, in her own words.
In January 2011, I got the exciting news that my husband, Robert, and I were going to be parents again. My son Evan was two at the time, and we were more than ready to add another member to our family. To our surprise, soon after we got the initial news, we found out that our joy was going to be doubled: I was pregnant with identical twins.
Robert was thrilled, but I was very nervous. In a few short months, our family of three would become a family of five. I knew we would need help adjusting to this drastic change. Some of my friends who have twins recommended that I hire a postpartum doula for the first six weeks, so I did some research about what services this type of doula offers. I was impressed to learn that GBMC’s specially trained postpartum doulas assist with everything from breastfeeding support and sibling care to housekeeping and running errands. Lanny Dowell, Doula Program Coordinator, helped set us up with the perfect doula for us – Georgeanne Saddington.
I gave birth to my twin daughters, Grace and Quinn, on July 29, 2011, and Georgeanne started working with us at my home on August 2, 2011. Each night, she’d arrive at 10:00 p.m. and stay until 6:00 a.m. She fed and changed the girls, which allowed us to rest and recharge. I myself was recovering from a c-section and also had a root canal shortly after we brought the babies home, so her help was greatly appreciated.
Even more valuable than the extra sleep we were able to get was the helpful advice Georgeanne offered. She provided expert tips on taking care of twins and the importance of keeping them on the same schedule. She taught us how to get them to sleep in their cribs and so much more. She really became part of our family. We were so pleased with the services she provided that we expanded our eight-week contract by 12 more weeks!
Grace and Quinn are now a year old, and Evan is four. I’m a much more confident mother of multiples than I would have been without the help of Georgeanne and the Postpartum Doula Program at GBMC.
Learn More
To learn more about the birth and postpartum doula services offered by GBMC’s Parent Education Department, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262). Or, take advantage of the “Ask An Expert” tool by browsing to and selecting the “Doula Support” button.

How to Perform a Breast Self Exam

Breast Self Exams (BSE) allow women to familiarize themselves with how their breasts normally look and feel. This helps women detect changes that may happen as early as possible. Typically, BSEs become an option for women in their 20s, but it is up to you and your health professional if you want to do them on a regular schedule. If you choose to perform BSEs, the ideal time is three to five days after your period begins.
Follow the Steps Below to Perform a Breast Self Exam:
1. Lie on your back and place your right hand behind your head. With the middle fingers of your left hand, press down firmly, yet gently, to examine your breast and feel for any lumps in the right breast. Repeat the process for the opposite side, switching hands. It is important that this portion of the exam be done lying down because it allows breast tissue to spread evenly, making it thin and allowing you to better feel all the tissue.
2. While sitting or standing, squeeze each nipple and check for discharge. Also examine your armpits, since breast tissue extends to this point. Note that when examining your armpits, your arms should only be raised slightly. If you raise your arm too much, the tissue in the area will tighten, and it’ll be harder to notice changes.
3. Stand with your arms at your side and look at your breasts in a mirror. Look again with your arms over your head. When looking at your breasts, note any changes in the appearance of your breasts. This includes contour, shape, size, redness or scaliness, or dimpling on the nipple or skin of the breast. Additionally, make sure nipples are not retracting, or turning inward.

If you find any changes in the appearance or feel of your breasts, see your doctor. Changes don’t always mean cancer, but it’s best to consult with your physician when you notice them since cancer found at an early stage typically has a better chance of successful treatment.

Keep in mind that the American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 40 and older have a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year. Those at higher risk (family history of breast cancer or genetic tendency) may be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. Between ages 20 and 39, a clinical breast examination should be performed by a health professional every three years. Talk with your doctor to learn more about exams and screenings that are appropriate for you.

For information on the Sandra & Malcolm Berman Comprehensive Breast Care Center at GBMC, call 443-849-GBMC (4262) or visit