Ellen B

Ellen B.’s Spinal Champion journey began in 2002 when she started experiencing debilitating pain in her neck and shoulders that left her unable to work or help care for her family. This severe pain came with a tingling sensation in her fingers, which her doctor believed was caused by nerve impingement (also known as a pinched nerve) in her cervical spine.

After her first round of x-rays and an MRI, Ellen was referred to a neurosurgeon and diagnosed with spinal stenosis. She was able to treat this condition using epidural steroid injections under the guidance of a pain management physician for several years.

Over time, the epidural steroid injections stopped working and the tingling in Ellen’s hands progressed causing her to frequently drop things and experience increased pain in her neck and shoulders.

“I was seeing my neurosurgeon and was told I would need to have a fusion at C3-4 in 2007. I continued to have pain post-surgery and even while still having the steroid injections.”

During the next decade, Ellen had a microendoscopic discectomy at C6-7 and another fusion at both C4-5 and C5-6. When specialists recommended yet another fusion shortly after, she finally decided it was time to take control of her own health and found a surgeon who would be able to get her back to her life.

“I was fortunate enough to hear about a surgeon in California who considered removing the fusion from C5-6 and using an artificial disc at levels C5-6 and C6-7. I had STEM cell injections to treat the occipital nerve pain at the time of surgery.”

But the battle didn’t end here. Ellen’s insurers hadn’t approved this innovative, yet proven, surgery and were resistant to cover the cost of the procedure.

“I was becoming very depressed and becoming more frustrated and very persistent as I would call the insurance companies. My surgeons, my doctors, would have to do appeals for me to even get some of the MRIs that I needed…meanwhile, my arm was getting weaker and the numbness was getting worse.”

For over a year, Ellen and her doctor were persistent in their pursuit to have her insurance cover the procedure that she needed, filing appeals and having doctor-to-doctor reviews. Eventually, they were able to get her insurers to pay for the cost of replacing one level and she was able to move forward with the surgery.

“I am so grateful because my life would be totally different now if I hadn’t done the artificial on artificial.”

Ellen has been pain-free since this surgery and is finally able to get back to her life!

If you are struggling with neck pain, the National Spine Health Foundation has got your back. We invite you to join our private support group and learn more about prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and most importantly recovery.

You can also hear the rest of Ellen’s story and additional Spinal Champion stories on the Get Back to It Podcast.