Beverly Smith: Relief for Spine Pain
Over the years, it has become a family tradition of sorts for Beverly Smith and her cousin Steve to go together to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, where his friend’s company sponsors a booth at the annual barbecue cook-off.
“Steve is seven years younger than I am, and I was breathing so hard he thought I was having a heart attack,” says Smith, an energetic 80-year-old. “When I told him it was my back pain, he said, ‘We have things to do, Beverly. We need to take care of that pain.’”
That was 2019, the year Smith found Nadya Dhanani, MD, an assistant professor in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Dhanani, who is board certified in anesthesiology and pain management, is an interventional pain management specialist at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences-Texas Medical Center.
“Beverly and I have worked together for the last couple of years to find ways to avoid surgery given her age and desires,” says Dhanani, whose primary focus is relief of spine pain. “Back pain is very rarely caused by one problem,” she says. “Beverly’s diagnosis is lumbar spondylosis, a general term for normal wear and tear of the spinal discs, but she has stenosis and also arthritis associated with aging. As a diagnostic test, we did medial branch nerve blocks, injecting local anesthetic near the small medial branch nerves connected to specific facet joints at several levels of the spine. Her response showed that she would be a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation, which uses radiofrequency waves to ablate the small nerve endings and block the signal of pain.”
Before the procedure, Smith was, in her words, “very debilitated and unable to perform simple tasks, like standing at the stove for 10 minutes to cook. I’m very independent and don’t like to accept help. At the time I met Dr. Dhanani I was approaching 80, so I decided to get myself tuned up for my next 20 years,” she says with a laugh. “Today, I hover between 80 and 85 percent better, and to me that is wonderful. All in all, I consider it a 95 percent improvement in my quality of life.”
The ablated nerves will grow back, and in six to 12 months Smith may notice pain again and need a repeat procedure.
Dhanani gives Smith a lot of credit for her recovery. “She’s extremely vivacious and active, and highly motivated to improve her condition, an attitude that works symbiotically with the pain management procedures we’re doing,” she says. Smith is looking forward to rebuilding her core strength, cooking meals, and being more active. “Next we’ll work on my neck,” she says. “I’m just waiting for the day I can take off. I’ve gone to Corpus Christi to visit friends since 1980. We’ll get in the kitchen and be cooking carne guisada and have a few cervezas. We never know how many people will drop in so sometimes we have to stretch the food. And I plan to be back at the rodeo next year.”
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