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Success Stories
Cleveland Clinic MyConsult Helps Louisiana Native Avoid Major Surgery

Chuck Smith, a resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had always been an active and healthy individual, enjoying hunting, fishing, and traveling with his family. However, life changed quickly the night before his 68th birthday. Chuck and his wife were busy packing for a cruise vacation with the family when suddenly Chuck’s right arm and leg went numb.

“All of a sudden I felt funny,” Chuck said. “My right arm got weak and floppy and I could no longer move my leg where I wanted it to go. It was pretty spooky. I did not understand what was happening.”

Worried he was suffering a stroke, Chuck underwent several tests in his local ER, including a CAT scan. The physicians could not find any indication of a stroke. Still looking for answers, Chuck made an appointment with a neurosurgeon.

The neurosurgeon ordered an MRI to evaluate his condition. He found out that the resulting diagnosis was troubling: cervical spinal stenosis with cervical myelopathy. Cervical spinal stenosis is a slowly progressive condition where the spinal canal narrows in the neck. Cervical myelopathy refers to this compression of the cervical spinal cord that is a consequence of the spinal stenosis. The surgeon’s treatment recommendation was a six level cervical spine fusion, which meant that all of the vertebrae in his neck would be fused together. This is a major surgery involving a week-long hospital stay and several screws and plates in the neck.

My wife couldn’t stop crying,” Chuck said. “It was a confusing time- at that point I couldn’t drive or write, and my wife had to take me to my work meetings. So we scheduled the surgery for a few weeks later.”

However, Chuck’s daughter, a nurse, had other ideas. She insisted he get a second opinion.

I started to really think about all that was involved with this type of surgery,” Chuck explained. “I would have screws and plates in my neck, spend 60 days with a neck brace and face months of physical therapy. And after all that, I would have a permanently stiff neck. I realized my daughter was right. I had to get a second opinion.”

Chuck turned to an orthopaedic surgeon in New Orleans, who ordered a Magnetic Resonance Angiogram (MRA). The results gave no indication of a stroke. Although the surgeon confirmed the diagnosis of spinal stenosis, he was less inclined to recommend surgery, and suggested Chuck obtain a third opinion. At this point, Chuck was starting to regain functionality in his limbs. It was up to Chuck to make the final decision on surgery.

As a Chair for Vistage, a peer-to-peer organization for CEOs and business owners, Chuck had access to the Health Network Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting CEOs with leading hospitals and physicians to provide access to the best care in the world. A representative from the Health Network Foundation recommended that Chuck consider using Cleveland Clinic’s MyConsult® service as a way for Chuck to get a specialist opinion for his condition from a Cleveland Clinic specialist, without having to travel to Cleveland.

The MyConsult Online Medical Second Opinion program is a sophisticated, Web-based extension of Cleveland Clinic’s 90-plus-year role as one of America’s most respected referral institutions. The secure, online program provides medical second opinions from Cleveland Clinic specialists for more than 1,200 life-threatening and life-changing diagnoses.

Chuck went online to request the second opinion. Once he completed the MyConsult questionnaire and sent all needed records and images, his case was triaged to R. Douglas Orr, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in spine cases.

The MyConsult nursing team couldn’t have been kinder or more understanding of my condition and helpful throughout the process, Chuck said. “Dr. Orr’s second opinion report was very timely and helpful.”

In his second opinion report, which was sent online securely via the MyConsult web portal, Dr. Orr confirmed the cervical spinal stenosis diagnosis, but did not see any evidence of the spinal compression that is indicative of cervical myelopathy. Dr. Orr recommended another MRI in 3-4 months to check for any progression of the condition, but felt that surgery was not necessary at that point in time. Chuck was also able to send three follow-up questions after he reviewed his second opinion report, which helped to further clarify his decision to delay the neck fusion. Armed with this information, Chuck canceled his surgery. His symptoms have continued to improve.

Chuck is back to hunting and fishing with his son, and enjoying his grandkids. And, as it turns out, he and his wife didn’t really want to go on a cruise anyway. Instead, the whole family, 24 people in all, vacationed this summer in Orange Beach, Alabama. Since receiving his second opinion report, Chuck has recommended MyConsult to six other colleagues and acquaintances.

It was an enormous gift,” Chuck said. “The service was way beyond my expectations. Dr. Orr’s recommendations could not have been better or more appropriate.”