After Decades of Pain, Avon Man Gets Relief With Cervical Fusion

Brain & Spine Care
“When you have this type of surgery, it’s important to be local because you have a lot of follow-ups. You want to be close to the source.”

After suffering from neck and shoulder pain for more than 40 years, 70-year-old Bruce Schindler of Avon is finally on the road to recovery.

“I had this nagging neck ache all the time at the base of my neck and in my shoulder blade area … I was told I had arthritis and pinched nerves.”

Bruce’s pain had accumulated over time after suffering from multiple car accidents and head injuries. He tried managing the pain with massage therapy, chiropractic work, exercise, physical therapy, injections and even over-the-counter pain relievers.

“It would only temporarily relieve the pain. It wouldn’t stick,” said Bruce. “I knew something was going on that was not right. The pain was getting worse. It was waking me up constantly every night. I started losing the ability to feel things — I couldn’t pick them up.”

His quality of life was suffering. He couldn’t volunteer, swim, or drive anymore.

Bruce finally sought medical advice. He underwent electromyography (EMG) to test the nerve function in his arms, shoulder and neck area. It was determined that he needed to see a neurologist and was referred to CentraCare’s Neurology Clinic.

From the time of his referral to his first appointment took one month. His medical team immediately ordered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), another EMG and electromagnetic radiation (X-ray), which all indicated bodily damage and provided further evidence to explain the pain he was experiencing.

“They recommended injections, but I’d already gone down that road, so I asked for a second opinion.”

That’s when Bruce started working with CentraCare Neurosurgeon Jeffrey Gerdes, MD. The patient sat down for a consultation and Dr. Gerdes recommended surgery.

Bruce was apprehensive at first because of myths he’d heard. “You know, I’d heard things like, it’s going to ruin your life once you do surgery because you’ll have to keep doing that.”

He and his wife spoke with Dr. Gerdes about all the reasons why surgery was necessary in this situation. Bruce agreed and within two weeks he underwent cervical fusion, a surgical procedure where two or more bones are permanently joined together.

“My bones were really compressed and had hardly any space left between the bones in my neck.”

A cadaver bone was used to hold Bruce’s bones apart. He had a total of five bones fused together in his neck to form one large bone.

After the procedure, Bruce started noticing significant improvements within the first few days. “I had no pain in my left hand at all like I did before. That was an odd sensation because I got so used to having it.”

It can take up to 18 months to completely recover from the pain after undergoing cervical fusion surgery. “It gets better every day … It’s a 90 percent improvement from what I had before. I’m a 70-year-old man. If I was 40, I’d probably heal a lot quicker.”

Bruce was happy to get care so close to home. “When you have this type of surgery, it’s important to be local because you have a lot of follow-ups. You want to be close to the source.”

The only thing Bruce said he would have done differently with his care is getting it sooner. “In hindsight, I wish I would’ve pursued it harder. Get all the information to base a decision on before putting it off for 40 years. If I would’ve had it done way earlier, I would maybe have avoided the damage I ended up with.”

Today Bruce is still working on recovery. He’s happy to report he’s sleeping better, living with 90 percent less pain than before surgery, and working on getting his life back to normal.