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FROM UVA RADIOLOGY & MEDICAL IMAGING

Finding Relief From Back Pain

By Alden Groves May 7, 2018
James standing in front of a table and leaning forward, grimacing in pain and grabbing his lower back

There are many different causes of back pain, but there are also more possible treatments than many people realize. Interventional Radiology can play a key role in the health care of those who know about it. James Jackson had never heard of a kyphoplasty before he needed one, but he won’t soon forget about it.


James’s Story

James was referred to Dr. Michael Abramson in excruciating pain, desperate for relief of any kind. All James could think after Dr. Abramson finished explaining the technology involved in the procedure was, “Am I in Star Trek?”

It had already been one of those months where bad keeps getting worse. In some discomfort, James had gone to the hospital several weeks before and been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer. After a few weeks of radiation treatment, horrific back pain led to James calling 9-1-1. The next thing he knew, doctors told him he had a collapsed T9 vertebra and took him to see Dr. Abramson. The pain was unbearable, and James was ready to try anything that might help.

But he wasn’t expecting balloons.

 

Confidence and Empathy

Dr. Abramson is an interventional radiologist, and he knew from experience that he would have to explain his recommendation that James get a balloon kyphoplasty. Even the name sounded like something out of Star Trek. Before he dove deeply into the details of the procedure, however, Dr. Abramson wanted to reassure James that relief was not only possible but right around the corner.

“I was immediately struck by how positive he was,” James said of Dr. Abramson. “I asked him how he could be so upbeat about the whole thing, and he told me it was because he knew how much better I was going to feel soon. He was that confident of the procedure, and he was completely right.”

“I was immediately struck by how positive Dr. Abramson was”

James came into that first consult with Dr. Abramson hobbling with a cane, hardly able to get around. His appetite was diminished, and life was one long experience of pain. In fact, his pain was so bad that day with Dr. Abramson that he found himself in tears just sitting in his chair. His surprise came when he looked up. Sitting across from him, Dr. Abramson had tears in his eyes as well.

Doctor Michael Abramson posing in UVA lab coat

Michael A. Abramson, MD

“Right then, I knew I was in the hands of the right doctor, balloons or not,” James said. “I cannot express just how much it meant to me that this man, who had never experienced the pain himself, still understood how horrible it was and was brought to tears by my pain.”

Life Beyond Back Pain

After that consult, they scheduled James for a balloon kyphoplasty to fix his T9 vertebra. Essentially, the procedure involves using a needle, guided by x-ray, to insert a deflated balloon into the collapsed vertebra. The interventional radiologist then inflates the balloon to get the vertebra back to its original position. Finally, the balloon is removed and the cavity is filled with a quick-forming cement that stabilizes the vertebra.

Though he still deals with some deep aches and pains and is in the midst of chemotherapy, James feels as if he’s living in an entirely different world than the one he lived in before his kyphoplasty. He no longer needs a cane, and the excruciating back pain that drove out nearly every other thought from his head is gone. Looking back, his only regret is that he didn’t have the procedure done much sooner.

“The things interventional radiologists can do…for most people it is beyond comprehension that this stuff exists.”

“I tell my friends about what Dr. Abramson did, about the things interventional radiologists can do with needles, balloons, tiny tubes, you name it…and for most people it is beyond comprehension that this stuff exists,” said James. “I had never even heard of Interventional Radiology before this. Now I’ll never forget. I can’t even imagine where I’d be right now without that procedure. Thank you, Dr. Abramson.”

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