Quick job return after spinal procedure for back problem
By Karen Caffarini For Sun-Times Media
Grateful patient: Robert Kuehl (right), a tire mechanic who needed posterior lumbar fusion surgery to repair a bad back that was keeping him from doing his job, appreciates the work done by Drs. Nitin Khanna and Dwight Tyndall (pictured), of Spine Care Specialists in Munster. | Supplied photo
Robert Kuehl, of Hammond, has been repairing truck tires for 27 years. The work is hard — he has to lift up to 250 pounds and pick up car jacks while laying on his back — and demanding.
But Kuehl is good at his job and loves it.
When he slipped on ice at work and landed on his back last year, injuring a disc and putting him in great pain that persisted for months, Kuehl said he wasn’t so worried about losing his job, but not being able to do it again.
“I had therapy, pain pills; nothing was working. I was given shots; one worked a little,” said Kuehl, 46. “I was in real bad pain all the time.”
His wife, Roberta, said he was going through depression.
“I didn’t think he’d ever get back to his self again,” she said.
Help on the way
Kuehl was seeing an occupational therapist at first, who referred him to Dr. Dwight Tyndall, of Spine Care Specialists in Munster.
It was only after the methods Kuehl had previously tried were unsuccessful that Tyndall and Dr. Nitin Khanna, also of Spine Care Specialists, performed minimally invasive posterior lumbar fusion surgery on Kuehl.
“I felt bad for Robert,” Tyndall said. “We could have done the surgery sooner, but I didn’t want to short-change him. Most patients get better without surgery.”
Tyndall said he and Khanna have developed a reputation as being conservative, using surgery only as a last resort. Both doctors perform all surgeries together, resulting in a quicker surgery and recovery time.
Back on the job
Unlike the traditional fusion surgery, which Tyndall said involves a sizeable incision, exposing the spine and inserting screws, the minimally invasive fusion done by the Munster doctors required only a one and a half inch incision.
Tyndall said surgery took less than two hours, there was insignificant blood loss, Kuehl was able to go home in a couple days, and he was off work a total of four months after surgery instead of the usual six to eight months.
Kuehl had the surgery in September, and after four months of recovery, physical therapy and work hardening, is back at the job he loves and, he said, feeling no pain.
“I’ve been back at work for three weeks. Everything is fine. I usually get some help, but I’m back at full duty,” Kuehl said.
He said he had some pain for the first couple months after the surgery, but it was a different pain.
Tyndall said it takes some time for the incision to heal, even such a small incision.
Tyndall said physical therapy and work hardening designed for the patient’s type of work are essential for a full recovery after surgery. He said Kuehl’s work hardening had to be difficult, to strengthen his legs and muscles. Kuehl started lifting 30 pounds with his legs and was up to 110 pounds in two weeks.
Forefront of spine care
Khanna said he and Tyndall, both of whom are board certified and fellowship trained, are the attending physicians for every patient at Spine Care Specialists. The doctors have been working together for six years.
“At Spine Care Specialist, we strive to be at the forefront of spine care and have developed reliable minimally invasive techniques. We have focused our practice on the injured worker and have an extremely successful track record of getting our patients back on their feet and leading productive lives in an expeditious fashion,” Khanna said.
Tyndall said about 38 percent of their practice are workers compensation cases. He said especially during this recession, when it is difficult for displaced workers to find another job, it is important to solve the worker’s problem quickly and reduce their leave time from work.
In addition to posterior lumbar fusion, the doctors also do other types of surgery: anterior lumbar fusion, anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, lumbar microdecompression and lumbar microdiscectomy.
Khanna said every surgery must be tailored to the patients’ needs. In a decompressive procedure, nerves are being crushed by bone and soft tissue. The doctors need to relieve this pressure by removing the disc and bone causing the compression.
In spine fusion, they need to stabilize unstable or painful motion segments, which requires minimally invasive spinal instrumentation.
Word of their work is spreading. Kuehl said he has already recommended the doctors to a waitress he met in a restaurant. Drs. Tyndall and Khanna have treated patients from as far away as Africa.
More information about Spine Care Specialists, 730 45th St., Munster, is at (219) 924-3300 or www.spinecarespecialists.com.