Getting back to normal

Getting back to normal

Nancy Gavillet

Thanks to her successful surgery, Nancy is again able to enjoy time at the playground with her grandson Jameson.

Successful spine surgery means Nancy Gavillet can again keep up with her active grandchildren

Nancy Gavillet doesn’t go to the gym. She doesn’t have to. After raising and running after six children–at times climbing trees to do this–the lifelong Collinsville resident now keeps up with 32 grandchildren. 

"You have to be pretty active," said Nancy, 76, who is eagerly awaiting grandchild number 33 in November. "I just love ‘em all to death. Some I’m on Facebook with, some I’m on the phone with, and others are pretty personal. They’re cute and adorable, and I have fun with all of them."

Last winter and spring, though, Nancy was in great pain. She wears a pain pump due to severe scoliosis stenosis in the lumbar region of her back, and she consulted her pain management doctor for answers. He referred her to neurosurgeon Fangxiang Chen, M.D., of St. Anthony’s Neurosurgery Specialists, who diagnosed a herniated disc and scheduled Nancy for minimally invasive microsurgery April 1.

"Nancy tried all the non-surgical measures, but her excruciating pain persisted," Dr. Chen said. “More invasive surgeries could make her spine more unstable and possibly require more extensive procedures her health status would not tolerate. That was what we wanted to avoid."

Dr. Chen performed a microdiscectomy, or removal of a small portion of the herniated disc; and a foraminotomy, or surgery to relieve pressure on Nancy’s spinal nerves. This resolved her low back pain and right anterior thigh pain.

"Dr. Chen was absolutely a delightful person," she said. "And I just can't say enough about St. Anthony's. They’re just a smooth operation, a very well-oiled machine; each one knows what their job is and does it to best of their ability. Everybody was just wonderful, except for one nurse: she was above. She would say, ‘We have to do this. I know you don’t want to, but we have to do this.’ She always called me ‘my dear.’ I couldn't have had a more helpful nurse.

"All were very helpful and hands-on: they were right there. If I have to go to a hospital sometime, I don’t care if I’m on the other side of the state: St. Anthony’s is my hospital."
Word of mouth has made St. Anthony’s one of the top hospitals in St. Louis for spine and orthopedic procedures, said Carrie Gregory, B.S.N., R.N., Director of Surgical Services.

"Within the community we serve, that word has gotten out,” Carrie said. “We have a very strong referral base from our primary care physicians, who feel confident that their patients are going to be well taken care of."

After Nancy was discharged, she followed up with home therapy. During the cold and rainy weather, Nancy climbed stairs and walked inside her home, first with a walker and then with a cane. After the first month, she was able to walk unassisted.

Recently, Dr. Chen presented Nancy with a clean bill of health.

"Your name is on my speed dial if I need any more back surgery," she told him.