After looking in Boston, woman finds back pain relief in Louisville

Minimally invasive surgery for spondylolisthesis reduces pain, gives hope

Around 12 years ago, Joanne Attardi began having back pain she attributed to a fall. As it got worse every day, she sought help from numerous specialists near her home in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. She was told there was nothing that could be done to help her. She tried massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care, and nothing helped.

She was in her 60s at the time and missed bowling, skiing and dancing. In fact, she got to the point that walking anywhere was a problem.

“I thought I was destined to live with the increasing pain for the rest of my life,” Joanne said.

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When she moved to Kentucky in 2022, her new health care provider sent her to Kathryn J. McCarthy Mullooly, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at Norton Leatherman Spine. With one look at an MRI and an X-ray, Dr. McCarthy saw the issue was spondylolisthesis: One of the vertebrae in Joanne’s spine had moved out of place and was sliding over the one below it.

“This issue can cause the vertebrae to put pressure on the nerves, resulting in various levels of pain,” Dr. McCarthy said. “It also can cause weakness in the legs. When physical therapy and exercise, anti-inflammatory medication and steroid injections do not work, or when there is increasing pain and weakness, surgery may be an option.”

Now 73, Joanne’s age, osteoporosis and increasing pain and weakness were making surgery a more attractive option. The procedure would fuse two of her discs and build up the damaged area with a synthetic protein that Norton Leatherman Spine surgeons Steven D. Glassman, M.D., and John R. Dimar II, M.D., helped study in clinical research trials years ago.

“The goal was to stabilize Joanne’s spine and accelerate bone growth to help build up the area,” Dr. McCarthy said. “And what made her surgery unique is that we could do it in a minimally invasive way.”

The surgery left Joanne with only two scars about 2 inches long on either side of her spine.

“My recovery was incredible,” Joanne said. “I started with pain that passed 10 [on a scale of 1 to 10], and now I’m down to 3 or less, which was the goal.

“I was up and walking a few hours after surgery. Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital took very good care of me. The nursing staff was just wonderful.” Just a few months after the procedure, Joanne is back to walking around the block and looks forward to dancing with her husband soon.

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