It wasn’t that Bob Muich hadn’t noticed a few problems with his neck, it was just that he had other things on his mind. His wife has multiple sclerosis, and Bob is the person she counts on for care. He says he hurt a little and had some swelling. "I couldn’t move my neck as freely as I had before. But I let it go and went on with my life. My wife depends on me."
But Bob’s own mobility began to decrease—soon he wasn’t able to move his neck to look up at something, or look down. That limitation made driving a car difficult. Then, because his neck no longer supported his head, it began to tilt downward, directing his line of vision toward the floor. Conversation became complicated because he couldn’t look another person in the eye. And caring for his wife became increasingly difficult. Eventually, Bob says, “I couldn’t hold my head up.” He used his hand to support his head, and his palm and chin grew raw.
When Bob discussed his worsening condition with his doctor, he was told he had arthritis. Then he happened to talk with a nurse from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and she recommended Neill Wright, MD, a Washington University neurosurgeon at the hospital. At that appointment, he remembers looking at the scan of his neck: “It was a little scary… my neck looked like a boomerang.” The diagnosis was a severe cervical deformity. Dr. Wright says, "Surgery was Bob's best option. Physical therapy might strengthen his neck, but it would never return it to a normal position."
The procedure Dr. Wright performed is a complicated one. He notes that it’s important the repair be done by a surgeon experienced in repositioning the neck in just the right way. It takes several hours to address the stenosis from the front of the neck and another several hours repairing the problem from the back of the neck. “We removed some of the spinal discs from the front and then reconstructed using a metal plate and spacers. At the back, we used metal screws and rods to hold the neck in the proper position,” says Wright. The surgery was performed on a Friday, not normally a day for scheduling surgeries, but the Friday appointment meant Bob’s wife could be cared for by their son. On Tuesday, Bob went home.
What followed surgery was some pain, some restrictions on lifting, twisting and bending, and some hard work. “I had physical therapy for about five weeks, and I was away from work for about seven,” says Bob. “But it all seems so long ago now. I don’t even think about it because it went so well. I feel great.”