• LHMC Gives Firefighter a Fighting Chance

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    Phil Gray, 43, woke up one morning with a sore shoulder; he assumed he had pulled a muscle, but he became concerned when he couldn’t move his arm.

    “I couldn’t even tie my shoe,” said Gray, a 14-year veteran of the Woburn Fire Department.

    He went to the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center (LHMC) Emergency Department, where an MRI showed his disc at the C6/7 vertebrae was compressing his spinal cord and the nerves that control wrist extension and bicep function. Surgery was suggested, but Gray didn’t feel ready.

    Within weeks of being home, the pain was so intense he couldn’t work. That’s when he spoke with Kinan Hreib, MD, PhD, Neurologist, who referred him to Robert Whitmore, MD, a Neurosurgeon.

    “Dr. Whitmore mentioned disc replacement surgery, which I had never heard of,” said Gray. ”He told me I was a perfect candidate.”

    Artificial disc replacement is a motion-sparing alternative to spinal fusion — the most common type of back surgery. While fusion involves fusing two or more vertebrae together, disc replacement replaces the problem disc with an artificial one made of metal and plastic.

    “Disc replacement is a new technology, which may be used in some cases to avoid cervical fusion,” said Whitmore. ”By preserving motion, it decreases the stress on adjacent discs and restores the disc’s original height.”

    Gray was out of the hospital the day after the surgery, and was back to full duty at the fire station within two months. He’s playing hockey again as well.

    “This procedure changed my life,” said Gray. “When you hear you need neck surgery, you don’t know what it’s going to mean for your life. I’m grateful for Dr. Whitmore. He put me back together.”

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