Ingalls Neurosurgeon Performs One-of-a-Kind Spinal Surgery on Local Woman

On a snowy morning in early January, Susan Anderson plays a lively game of Twister with her granddaughters Amber and Kayla Jaskula of New Lenox.

"Right foot red; left foot green," Anderson's daughter Crystal Jaskula calls out. Bending and stretching like a woman half her age, Anderson and her granddaughters erupt in giggles as they complete their moves.

Afterwards, Anderson bends down and scoops up five-year-old Kayla to give her a hug. At 55, Anderson is the picture of health.

But the energetic wife, mother and grandmother wasn't nearly so limber just two short years ago. In fact, she could barely carry her groceries, much less pick up her granddaughter or play a game on the floor. Debilitating neck pain and discomfort were her constant companions.

"At first I thought (the pain) was from tension," she explains. Then numbness and tingling began in the fingers and thumb of her left hand. Eventually it turned to excruciating pain. "It felt like someone was hitting me with a baseball bat."

Anderson's quality of life was severely compromised. "I would be holding something, and if it fell, I wouldn't even know it," she said. Anderson needed an answer – and fast.

After several rounds of diagnostic testing, she was referred to renowned neurosurgeon Martin Luken, III, M.D., medical director of neurosurgery at Ingalls Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Luken, who was recently named one of the top neurosurgeons in Chicago by Chicago Magazine, diagnosed her with degenerative spinal disease involving the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh vertebrae of her neck – and three herniated discs in between the four vertebrae.

The likely cause of her problems was a decades-old car accident in which Anderson bruised her spinal cord.

"Mrs. Anderson's MR I showed severe degenerative changes in the three discs and the vertebrae," Dr. Luken explained. "When we checked her, her reflexes were impaired in her left arm."

What's more, Anderson had developed a bony spur in her neck, narrowing the spinal canal and ultimately putting pressure on the nerve roots that supply her left arm.

"It was a complicated problem," Dr. Luken said. Without treatment, Anderson ran the risk of paralysis from the neck down.

Innovative Spine Treatment at Ingalls

A pioneering neurosurgeon, Dr. Luken recommended a procedure that had likely never been performed in the Chicago area before: a traditional spinal fusion combined with two artificial disc replacements.

"Mrs. Anderson is an active, dynamic woman," he explained. "We wanted to help preserve as much neck movement as possible."

Spinal fusion, which involves removing a herniated disc and fusing the vertebrae above and below with bone graft, fixes the affected vertebrae but restricts movement at the level of the fusion. Utilizing fusion on all four of her affected neck vertebrae would have severely compromised Anderson's ability to move and turn her neck. It also would have lead to problems with neighboring discs and vertebrae down the road.

The other option was artificial disc replacement, which involves removing the damaged disc and inserting an artificial disc in its place. This allows continued motion at the level of the affected disc.

"Artificial discs are amazingly durable," Dr. Luken explained. That's why the military regularly recommends artificial disc replacement over spinal fusion for paratroopers. "They're back jumping out of planes in a couple weeks after surgery," he added.

Dr. Luken was faced with a unique challenge in Anderson's case, though: her spinal problems involved three herniated discs and four affected vertebrae. Unfortunately, artificial discs aren't intended to be used in adjacent disc space.

But Dr. Luken quickly came up with an ingenious solution: fuse Anderson's fifth and sixth vertebrae together, and insert an artificial disc between the fourth and fifth vertebrae and a second between the sixth and seventh vertebrae.

"The procedure was a variation of a theme that we do quite routinely," he explained.

In three short hours, Dr. Luken successfully removed the three herniated discs, replaced two of them with artificial discs and fused the middle two vertebrae together. It all added up to a remarkable procedure that completely resolved Anderson's pain and eliminated the very real threat of paralysis.

"We worked right there on the frontier of spinal surgery," Dr. Luken said. "It all went very smoothly. She did splendidly."

Because she was an avid exerciser and fitness enthusiast before surgery, Anderson was able to avoid physical therapy after the procedure. She was back home within days and back to work as a cashier at a busy Frankfort grocery store in less than two months.

Today, the energetic Anderson exercises several times a week, and works and plays with her granddaughters like never before. "Dr. Luken is wonderful. I'd recommend him to anyone," Anderson said. "There's no more pain. I feel like a new person." Anderson also sings Ingalls' praises. In fact, she and her family have turned to Ingalls many times over the years.

Anderson delivered her two daughters there; she also had ankle surgery at Ingalls in 2010, and her husband recently underwent quadruple bypass at Ingalls in early December.

"I wouldn't go anywhere else," she adds.

For more information about artificial disc replacement at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, call Ingalls Advanced Orthopedic Institute at 708.915.PAIN(7246) or visit the Ingalls Spine Center on the web at

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