Procedure allows 70-year-old to walk again

On April 16, Myrtle Beach resident Dorothy Buff stood up from her wheelchair and walked.

Unassisted, without her cane, a few days after her 70th birthday, she walked without the excruciating pain she had been experiencing since before last November thanks to a neuro-radiological procedure never before performed in South Carolina. Without the procedure she could have anticipated little more than living out the rest of her life under fulltime nursing care.

“It was an excellent outcome,” said neuro-radiology fellow David Goltra, M.D., who described Buff as an otherwise healthy and active woman whose spine has been severely eroded from osteoporosis. As people age, especially women, their bone density tends to diminish. This can leave their bones brittle and structurally weakened to the point that just bending over can create a break in the spine or hip—incidental trauma, Goltra calls it.

MUSC neuro-radiology chief Joseph Horton, M.D., attending, and Goltra with interventional neuro-radiologist John Mathis, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore offering guidance, injected liquid polymethacrylate into one of the vertebral bodies in Buff’s spine. The procedure, though new to South Carolina, is one that has been performed successfully by Mathis. The liquid hardens a few minutes after it is mixed and is an ideal agent for filling the cavities left as osteoporosis erodes the bone. Goltra said sterile barium is added so it can be seen on a fluoroscope as it is injected into the vertebral body. As the liquid hardened, movement of Buff’s spine no longer occurred and the pain she had endured was gone.

“Within a couple of hours, it was rock hard,” Goltra said, “giving stability to the vertebral body. That portion of her spine is solid and stable and no longer moves and shifts as a soft vertebral body would.”

Goltra said success of the procedure is especially significant given the fact that osteoporosis is the most common reason a person is admitted to a nursing home. He expects that as it becomes more common to replace critical bone loss in such vital areas as the spine, more and more people will be spared the pain and crippling affects of osteoporosis in their later years.

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