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Standing tall after spine surgery

After living with pain, one 77-year-old woman regains use of her hands and legs

Last September, Audrey Hanger began experiencing pain in her right leg. Until she saw Clark B. Bernard, MD, a spine surgeon at Augusta Health, she didn’t realize the leg pain was being caused by her upper spine.

In addition to leg pain, Hanger had a host of other symptoms, including poor balance, difficulty walking, numbness in her legs, and poor coordination and dexterity in her hands. All of her symptoms were being caused by arthritis in her neck, Dr. Bernard says.

“She had a lot of arthritis in her neck and it was physically pinching or causing a narrowing or constricting of her spinal cord,” Dr. Bernard says. “She was having so much pinch in her spinal cord that she actually had swelling in her spinal cord.”

Dr. Bernard says it was very likely Hanger would continue having trouble with numbness, balance and coordination — and was even at risk of going paralyzed from the neck down — if she didn’t have surgery.

“When I first went to the doctor, he said I would need surgery, and I said no,” Hanger says. “I said, I’m too old to have surgery. I’m 77. And he said, Let’s stop this right here. We just did this on an 80-something-year-old lady, and she was dancing within two weeks. That stopped me, because that’s something I had to give up also.”

At 77, Hanger was incredibly active and independent. Now retired, she worked as a buyer at Leggett (now Belk) in Waynesboro, Virginia, for 18 years. She lives alone in Fishersville and takes care of her own home. Until recently, she even mowed an acre and a half of grass.

“She’s super spunky,” Dr. Bernard says. “She’s just a delight. She’s a go-getter. She’s young-spirited and really just a dynamic person.”

Hanger didn’t want to risk jeopardizing her mobility, so she decided to go through with surgery on Dec. 31, 2018.

“The procedure itself was really a game changer for her,” Dr. Bernard says. “It really helped her symptoms and I think she’s been very pleased with her results.”

Hanger agrees, saying that although she’s still in the recovery process, she’s been happy with her progress thus far. “I hope the rest of the journey is as pleasing as the first part has been,” she says.

To learn more about the Augusta Health Spine Clinic, visit augustahealth.com/spine-clinic or call (540) 245-7400 (Fishersville) or (540) 464-3465 (Lexington).