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Gregg Gray: Repair of Post-traumatic Thoracolumbar Scoliosis

Alabama resident Gregg Gray injured his back playing football when he was 15. “I was basically bent backward,” he recalls, “and the injury left me with a bad pain that wouldn’t stop. It ached even when I sat, but after a while I got used to it.”

Gray went on to play high school football, and in his late 20s, the pain worsened. He saw a spine surgeon who ordered an MRI and diagnosed a broken vertebra and herniated disks, and told him that surgery might or might not help. He decided to wait.

BEFORE (left): Preoperative X-rays demonstrating a degenerative post-traumatic scoliotic curve with trunk shift and a fixed thoracolumbar kyphosis.

AFTER (right): Postoperative X-rays following a T10-ilium posterior spinal fusion with multilevel posterior osteotomies/interbody fusion demonstrating improved coronal and sagittal alignment.

Ten years later in 2004, Gray was reevaluated by another surgeon in the same spine practice. “I went through rounds of MRIs and tried several nerve blocks, all to no avail,” he says. “The surgeon told me about a procedure that provided good results using an anterior approach to the spine that involved moving organs and blood vessels in the abdomen, but that didn’t appeal to me.”

By the time he was in his late 30s, Gray had a 25-degree curve in his spine and nerve pain in his legs. “It was like having a constant knife in my left side,” he says. To continue working, he started seeing an interventional pain management specialist in Tuscaloosa, who prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medications.

In 2017, a surgeon in Tuscaloosa performed a single thoracic fusion for a herniated disk that was pressing on his spinal cord, but the procedure did not improve his back pain.

That same year, he stopped working. “I couldn’t stand straight, and I had back and leg pain and difficulty walking,” he says. “I leaned to the right because the pain was so bad on the left. As the scoliosis progressed, I could walk only for a little while and then the pain became unbearable. The only relief I found was lying down. I stopped participating in activities and became isolated and introverted. My sister told me I seemed like a totally different person.”

Gray’s wife, Julie, a registered nurse, was offered a job in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and the couple relocated. He was still seeing his pain management specialist in Tuscaloosa, making the 4 ½-hour drive every three months.

“Finally, I felt like I had to do something and was willing to roll the dice and see what came up,” he says.

The Grays joined a church in Gulf Shores and met a couple who suggested he talk with Dr. John Quinn in Houston. “Both of them had seen Dr. Quinn and highly recommended him. I looked him up online and saw that he specialized in everything that was wrong with me, and I thought, ‘This is a good sign!’ I scheduled a consultation, sent him my imaging results, and flew to Houston, hopeful that he could straighten me up and provide some relief,” he says.

“Mr. Gray had developed a severe form of post-traumatic thoracolumbar scoliosis that was atypical in that it was not caused by degenerative disk disease as it is in most adult patients,” Quinn says. “It was an acute angulation in the spine caused by the fracture. His spine had become a lot stiffer than with typical degenerative scoliosis, making it more of a challenge because of the lack of flexibility. Over the years, he went from being very functional and active to being extremely limited by pain and dependent on opioids. By the time we met, his curve was 40 degrees in the lumbar spine with significant trunk imbalance. His entire upper trunk was shifted to the right by about 5 centimeters.”

Quinn asked Gray to taper down his pain medications over a six-month period, then took him to the OR in July 2021, followed by a three-day hospital stay.

“After the surgery, I was sore, but the knife in my back was gone,” Gray says. “I haven’t had to take anything for pain in two years, and I’ve regained an inch in height that I’d lost. Dr. Quinn was professional and caring, and his entire staff went above and beyond to try to make me feel comfortable. I thought I was destined for this pain and lifestyle forever, and then God came to work a miracle in my life. I’m a strong believer in miracles, and when I look back, I know we went to that church to meet that couple. It’s been a great weight off my shoulders, and I can’t sing enough praises of Dr. Quinn and his staff. Because of my experience, I’m much more in tune with how people move and notice when they’re in pain. When the back is involved, I always suggest an appointment with Dr. Quinn.”

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