Kimala Preston thought life as she knew it was over after she fell in her dining room last summer. She crushed three discs in her back, severely affecting her day-to-day life and forcing her to use a wheelchair.
After several trips to the emergency room, she was referred to Dr. Abimbola Afolabi at Orthopaedic Associates of Southern Delaware, who diagnosed her with cervical myelopathy. Afolabi performed decompression surgery, and Preston said the results have been remarkable.
“She gave me my life back,” Preston said. “I just keep getting better and better every day.”
Preston’s condition had gotten so bad before surgery that she had to call paramedics because she didn’t have enough strength in her legs to leave her home. Now, she’s nearly back to full health.
“I can now walk and clean my own house,” she said. “I couldn’t cook before because it was too dangerous. My arms and hands were getting more weak and numb as each day went by. Now, I can cook.”
Before finding Afolabi, Preston said she was looking into nursing homes. Preston said, “I’m still living at home, and I’m able to do everything on my own.”
Cervical myelothapy is most common in middle-aged people and seniors, and it’s often caused by the wear and tear of aging. But it can be also be caused by traumatic events, as in Preston’s case.
“Cervical myelothapy may affect the upper and lower extremities, with patients exhibiting symptoms such as hand weakness, dropping objects, changes in handwriting, gait disturbances,” Afolabi said. “Lower extremity weakness progresses from a person being able to walk freely to needing a cane, then walker, then wheelchair.”
Afolabi said it is important to diagnose and treat cervical myelothapy as early as possible because progression can cause irreversible damage.
“We do our best as spine surgeons to restore function, but this cannot be guaranteed, as the spinal cord sometimes cannot recover from injury,” Afolabi said. “Surgery is not the cure, but to prevent progression of disease.”
Recovery varies from patient to patient, she said, and is dependent on an individual’s healing response to spinal cord damage.
Joseph Adelmann is slowly recovering from decompression surgery. He was nearly wheelchair-bound and had become incontinent prior to surgery on Christmas Day. Five months later, he is able to get around with the help of a walker and is back to work. He hopes for further improvement.
Two years prior, Adelmann was involved in a scooter accident and landed on his head. Following the accident, he focused on getting healthy enough for hip replacement surgery, which happened in November 2018. But he knew something else was wrong.
“My hands and feet were starting to go numb when I was sleeping,” he said. “They doctor thought because I’m a plumber that it was probably carpal tunnel.” It wasn’t. His symptoms progressively worsened as he went through rehab for his hip. An MRI revealed cervical myelothapy, and he was referred to Afolabi.
“She’s my guardian angel,” Adelmann said.
And while he’s still using a walker, he said his overall health has improved immensely since December.
Patients with cord compression shown on MRI but who do not have signs or symptoms of cervical myelopathy on exam are observed. Surgery is only used if they become symptomatic, Afolabi said.
Though patients may exhibit all the symptoms of cervical myelothapy, Afolabi said said several neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and ALS, have similar symptoms.
“My goal as a spine surgeon is to identify and differentiate the surgical myelopathic patients from these and then make appropriate referrals to a neurologist for further evaluation and treatment,” she said.
Afolabi is a fellowship-trained orthopaedic spine surgeon, specializing in non-operative management as well as surgical treatment of different spinal disorders. She graduated magna cum laude with a biology degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, then attended Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and graduated in the top fifth of her class. She completed her orthopaedic surgery residency at University of Maryland/Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, working with many of the nation’s leading spine surgeons.
She pursued spine specialty training as a Spine and Scoliosis Fellow at the Hospital for Special Surgery/Weil Cornell Medical College/New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City under the chairmanship of Dr. Todd Albert, former president of the Cervical Spine Research Society and president of the Scoliosis Research Society.
Orthopaedic Associates of Southern Delaware was founded in 1990 and has grown to become an important part of the healthcare system of southern Delaware. OASD has nine physicians, two physician assistants and a staff of more than 70 people in five locations.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 302-644-3311 or go to www.delawarebonedocs.com.