Patient Spotlight: 91-year-old regains rhythm after robotic spine surgery
They say dancing keeps you young. Well, we can all take a lesson from 91-year-old spinal surgery patient, Julia Tourtellotte.
The vivacious great-great-grandmother recently showed off her moves to an enthusiastic crowd at HCA Healthcare Charleston-based affiliate Trident Medical Center. And they were electric.
Tourtellotte educated her physician, neurosurgeon Dr. Sabino DAgostino, on the art of her favorite dance style – clogging. The duo tapped their toes in celebration as they rejoiced after a successful robotic spine surgery.
From tap to square to Irish to folk – dancing has kept Tourtellotte in great shape for nearly half a century. She traveled the country, competing in state fairs and even a world competition in Canada. Clogging proved to be her favorite, going on to teach a clogging class at her local senior center.
Tourtellotte kept dancing away, even as health issues tried to prevent her from bopping to the beat. “A few years ago I started feeling pain in my legs,” said Tourtellotte.
She underwent a series of treatments that worked temporarily but didn’t provide long-term relief. With time she knew she needed to talk to her doctor about other options.
Choreographing a successful spine surgery
Because of her overall good health, Tourtellotte was deemed a great candidate for a more permanent solution, spine surgery, using innovative robotic technology. Trident Medical Center was the first medical center in South Carolina to house the technology, which is less invasive and more precise than previous methods.
“Many spine surgeries require screws or other devices to help in healing,” explained Dr. DAgostino. “Alignment of the spine, discs and vertebrae is extremely important. This new minimally invasive robotic surgery helps increase patient safety and accuracy in the operating room.”
In August 2018, Dr. DAgostino joined Tourtellotte in the operating room, using the technology to decompress an entrapped nerve while also stabilizing her spine with titanium screws and an expandable cage that went in place of her disc.
During the surgery, DAgostino was able to continuously visualize Tourtellotte’s anatomy for optimum precision. Because the neurosurgeon decided to go this route for the dancer’s care, she experienced a shorter surgery, reduced blood loss, less muscle damage and a faster recovery.
“As soon as I woke up from recovery I didn’t feel any pain in my legs and I haven’t felt any since then,” says Tourtellotte.
An added bonus for Trident Medical Center care providers, the technology streamlines surgical workflow and reduces radiation exposure.
Getting back on the dance floor
During her three-month recovery, she said she practiced dance steps with her feet while she was sitting. And, the day she was cleared to resume her normal activities she danced toward her pre-surgery goal.
“I wanted to be able to dance with my doctor when I recovered.” Her wish came true.
A few weeks ago, before a group of well-wishers, friends and hospital staff Tourtellotte and Dr. DAgostino, clogged, smiled and hugged in a post-recovery celebration dance.
Tourtellotte’s love affair with dance continues. “I still teach clogging classes at a senior center. I love it and am so happy I can still dance.”
The great-great-grandmother’s reunion dance with her doctor has been shared across CBS News, The Today Show, LinkedIn, and the Trident Medical Center Facebook page, with more than three and a half million combined views.
Trident Medical Center, located in Charleston, SC, is part of HCA Healthcare’s South Atlantic Division. Minimally invasive robotic spine surgery at Trident Medical Center is appropriate for candidates with lower back, lumbar, disease or injury where the surgical approach is from the back side.
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