Persistent hand numbness and chronic lower back and leg pain, the legacy of a severe injury decades earlier, began to impede Terenia Offenbecker’s life. A successful artist, Terenia could no longer hold a paintbrush. At home, she became increasingly clumsy, dropping glasses of water, cups of tea. The final straw came one evening when she and her husband John were out to dinner.
“I’m sitting at the table trying to work with my fork and knife, all of a sudden my fork is falling over, my knife is falling off,” said Terenia. “I didn’t know what was happening to me. It was a very horrible time in my life. I was dropping everything. My hands were totally numb. I had totally given up painting portraits. I had to do something.”
“To watch somebody deal with pain everyday to the point where she didn’t want to draw or paint, I knew the pain was bad,” said John. Together, they made the decision to come to Stanford.
“Stanford has such a great facility; there was no question I’m going there,” said Terenia. She made an appointment with the Neurological Spine Disorders Clinic and Orthopedic Spine Center at Stanford. There, she met Anand Veeravagu, MD.
“Mrs. Offenbacker has a very complex spine,” said Dr. Veeravagu, Director of Minimally Invasive NeuroSpine Surgery. “After suffering an injury in her teenage years, she had both a neck injury and a low back injury. She came to me with low back issues, but what we figured out was that there was some issues with her cervical spine that were likely responsible for her hands.” He recommended surgery to relieve the pressure on her cervical spine first. “The faster you’re able to take the pressure off the spinal cord,” he said, “the quicker the hands are able to recover, and the more function the patient will hopefully achieve.”
Once Terenia recovered and regained the use of her hands, she was scheduled for a second surgery to repair and stabilize her lower back to alleviate the pain radiating down her legs. For both surgeries, Dr. Veeravagu used an advanced robotic system. “The robotic and computer-assisted platform can take the CT scan, an image of her spine in 3D, and reconstruct what we want it to be,” said Dr. Veeravagu. “It allows us to generate the plan ahead of time, and then execute it with a high degree of accuracy.” Stanford is the first hospital in the Bay Area to utilize the system for complex spine surgery. The system, he said, lets Stanford neurosurgeons take very complicated patients and treat them safer than ever before, while also reducing time in the operating room, anesthesia use and recovery.
Dr. Veeravagu works as part of a multidisciplinary team that includes physical therapists, pain physiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons and vascular access surgeons. “When patients come to see us, our goal is to figure out what keeps them from doing the things they want to do, and making sure we identify a plan that allows them to get back to those things,” he said. “Understanding what patients’ goals are is as important as understanding what their MRI scan looks like.”
Months after her second surgery, Terania was painting again; her first commission a piece for her surgeon. “Just being able to go back to work, it’s amazing,” said Terenia. “Without Dr. Veeravagu, I don’t think I’d be able to function the way I’m functioning right now. I’m very grateful.”
“Being able to see a patient get back to participating in their life, and living life to the fullest, is one of the greatest joys I have,” said Dr. Veeravagu.