Camarillo Restaurant Manager Back To Work Only One Week After Neck Surgery

“My arms hurt so badly, the pain went down my right leg, it almost felt like I was hit by a car,” recalls Laura Papenfus, a 47-year-old restaurant manager from Camarillo. “I was limping badly and I was living in constant agony because I can only take Advil. I am very allergic to narcotics.”

Laura’s chronic neck pain began at the young age of 18, due to a horseback riding incident. While riding the horse, Laura was thrown from the horse, her foot was caught in stirrups and she was dragged with her head slamming into rocks and the ground repeatedly.  Throughout the past 28 years, Laura experienced a constant increase in pain, to the point where it was unbearable. “When under stress, people tend to carry the stress throughout their neck and mine was broken although I didn’t know it. It was bad, the headaches were extreme and it became very difficult to balance my job and the pain.”

Laura is currently the general manager of Mission Oaks Café, a restaurant, bar, and catering company in Camarillo. Laura’s days entail constantly being on her feet, sometimes up to 12-14 hours a day and handling multiple responsibilities to keep the restaurant functioning. Managing the floor, bartending, moving furniture, cleaning tables, carrying large amounts of food & dishes are a daily routine for Laura at Mission Oaks Café. “Something was always wrong. I had constant migraines and tingling sensations throughout my arms and fingertips, loss of feeling in my fingers & toes, the pain never ended,” Laura expressed about her hours at work. The nerve damage created a continuous stinging and severe pain in Laura’s right leg and hip affecting her ability to walk properly, which left customers aware and concerned of her agony. Although most customers were probably unaware, Laura eventually lost feeling in her face, due to the damage of the discs.

In the spine, there is a total of 23 intervertebral discs, 7 of which are located in the cervical spine. Each disc of the spine allows movement to occur with some help from the joints, the discs hold the vertebrae together. In Laura’s case, her discs began to deteriorate over time due to her accident.  This deterioration was the cause of her excessive amount of discomfort. Eventually, Laura began to experience numbness in her face and arms, due to the amount of pressure on the spine.  Doctor after doctor, chiropractor after chiropractor, Laura received minimal assistance to heal the pain.  Laura finally found a neurosurgeon, Dr. Anthony Virella in Westlake Village.  “Based on Laura’s symptoms, I immediately suggested an MRI and nerve test,” recalls Dr. Virella.  “My concern was that she had compression on her cervical spine.”

Laura’s test results showed what is known as cervical myelopathy in her C-4, C-5, and C-6 vertebrae.  Cervical myelopathy is a condition where compression on the spinal cord causes the neural signals sent by the spinal nerve roots becomes interrupted.  “My immediate concern was to decompress her spine before the damage became irreversible,” says Dr. Virella.  “The compression also explained her constant headaches, pain in her extremities and the loss of sensation in her face.  When spinal nerve roots become compressed, there is a definable window of time before the damage becomes permanent and, based on her lack of response to conservative methods, surgery was her only option.”

“When Dr. Virella told me my spine was compressed and I needed surgery, I was kind of freaked out because I did not know what that meant and the neck freaks me out,” Laura remembered when speaking about her time with Dr. Virella. Her comfort level grew though when she was informed she could return to work fairly quickly, as well as receive immediate relief through Dr. Virella’s unique approach to spine surgery.

“Laura underwent a procedure called an ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy and fusion).  During this procedure, the damaged portions of the spinal discs have to be removed and small metal implants are used to stabilize the spine.  Historically, this procedure required a very large incision into the neck to access the damaged area of the cervical spine,” says Dr. Virella.  “This large incision and a large amount of muscle and tissue dissection are what lead to a very long and painful recovery for most patients.”

However, Dr. Virella chose to utilize an innovative and minimally invasive approach to Laura’s procedure.  “With the advent of advanced surgical technology and real-time x-ray guidance (fluoroscopy), we are now able to perform this same procedure using an incision of about an inch, as opposed to several inches.  This approach also minimizes damages to the muscle and tissue surrounding the spine by using smaller surgical instruments to weave between muscle fibers, instead of cutting through them,” says Dr. Virella.

In fact, this approach was so drastically different traditional surgery that Laura was able to return home on the same day as her surgery.  “I did not realize I was living in such horrible pain until I woke up from surgery and the pain was gone,” Laura described when reflecting her recovery.

Only one week after her surgery, Laura returned to work at the Mission Oaks Café and just 3 weeks after surgery, Laura was able to work her way up to working her normal 12-hour shifts. Today, Laura expressed how wonderful it has felt to be able to sleep in comfort and not be in a constant amount of pain. “A new gym opened next door to my restaurant, I’ve already joined and started working out. I am an active person, I hike, I box, golf and I do spin. I miss doing the things my pain stopped me from doing.”

About Dr. Anthony Virella
Dr. Anthony Virella is a Board-Certified, Fellowship trained Neurological Spine Surgeon with advanced training in the management of complex spinal disorders. He attended medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and is a graduate of the UCLA Neurosurgery Residency Program. Dr. Virella completed his complex spine in-folding resident fellowship at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic Foundation with Dr. Edward C. Benzel, M.D. Additional work included a second fellowship in Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery at the UCLA Comprehensive Spine Center.

Dr. Virella is a nationally recognized specialist in the field of complex and Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery and has offices located in Westlake Village and Valencia.
If you, or someone you love, is suffering from persistent Sciatic pain, call us at 805.449.0088 to schedule an appointment.