Patient Spotlight: 91-year-old regains rhythm after robotic spine surgery

91 year old female patient and her neurosurgeon posing for a photo
Patient, 91-year-old Julia Tourtellotte with her neurosurgeon, Dr. Sabino DAgostino

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.

Woman hugging doctor in white lab coat

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. 

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

Recent articles