Sword fighter Amanda Gonyea spent a year seeing physicians who said that her chronic back pain was caused by excess weight. The 48-year old woman lost 150 pounds, but the pain did not go away. A friend recommended that she see Dr. Joseph Morreale at the Center for Spine and Orthopedics (CSO).
“I originally saw Dr. Morreale for my left foot drop,” says the Lafayette resident. “He was concerned that my pain was not coming from my back.” Dr. Morreale referred Gonyea to Dr. George Leimbach, a CSO physiatrist, for an EMG to pinpoint the source of Gonyea’s pain. It revealed peroneal nerve impingement at the knee. Gonyea underwent a peroneal nerve release by Dr. Chris Isaacs, a general orthopedic surgeon at CSO. The procedure relieved her foot pain, but months later, her back pain flared up again.
By the time she returned to see Dr. Morreale, Gonyea could no longer sword-fight, a sport that she and her husband enjoyed as members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. In fact, she could not walk more than 20 feet without pain. She had to use a wheelchair at times and drive a cart to go shopping. At home, Gonyea used a walker and needed her husband to tie her shoes.
“I couldn’t even get into a car by myself,” she says. “My husband had to put my right leg in.”
Dr. Morreale performed a decompression procedure at the L4 and L5 vertebrae and inserted a U-shaped Coflex implant for additional stabilization. That was in January 2016. Initially, the procedure brought relief. Later, however, the Coflex and Gonyea’s vertebrae started moving together, making spinal fusion surgery necessary.
In April 2016, Gonyea underwent an anterior lumbar interbody fusion of the L4 and L5 vertebrae performed by Dr. Morreale. Two days later, she went home to recover and took medication for post-surgical pain. After two weeks, she began crying during a follow-up visit with Rachel Cengia, Dr. Morreale’s physician assistant. “I didn’t think I’d need the medication for very long, but Rachel explained that bone takes longer to heal,” she says. “I learned not to try being brave or not let the pain overtake me. You have to give yourself time to heal.”
In August, Gonyea put her armor back on and started sword fighting again. She also took up CrossFit, which she had not done previously. “I can be really, really active now,” she says. “I can even pick up our five-year old and keep up with all four of our children.”
Gonyea says that she loves CSO. “I think the physicians are awesome, and I adore Rachel,” she says. “She even took the time (during surgery) to put my scar in the tail of my Peacock tattoo so you can barely see it.”