In October 2018, Janie Stewart, a 70-year-old grandmother of two who lives in Manhattan, started experiencing pain in her back and neck and lost feeling in her right foot and leg. She also had trouble with her upper body in terms of movement and dexterity. “I couldn’t bend to pick something off the floor,” Janie explained. “And it was hard for me to even go to the bathroom, tie my shoes or put on my socks. I couldn't walk without a cane or my walker, and I couldn’t drive anymore.”
Her personal struggles were tough enough to bear, but when Janie started missing a lot of family functions and was forced to give up playing with her 5-year-old grandson and taking him to school and the park, she knew she needed help.
She made an appointment with her primary care doctor, who suggested seeing a rheumatologist. Because Janie was diagnosed with lupus two years ago, he thought perhaps some of her medications might be related to her symptoms. The rheumatologist adjusted Janie’s drug regimen, but a month later, her symptoms remained the same. He then ordered a series of imaging tests, which indicated that Janie had a tumor on her cervical spine, or the upper portion of the spine near the neck. He sent her to Sami Saba, MD, a neurologist and neuromuscular medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Dr. Saba performed an MRI and other sophisticated tests to confirm that the tumor was interfering with her movement and causing her pain and numbness. He referred her for a consultation with Mitchell Levine, MD, the hospital’s director of spine surgery within the department of neurosurgery.
Janie was nervous about the idea of having surgery and had become depressed because of her debilitating symptoms. However, she found Dr. Levine’s knowledge of the cervical spine to be comforting. Additionally, at another appointment with her rheumatologist, Janie learned that she was in excellent surgical hands. “He told me that Dr. Levine was the best spinal surgeon in the country and that I had nothing to worry about,” she said. “Can you imagine how much better I felt at that moment? Knowing I had the best help to lift my experience and ease my fear.”