Spine Surgery Gives Local Man His Life Back

Blair Poteate wanted to return to enjoying time with his family. "My family noticed I was having issues with my balance when walking, and they became concerned,” said Poteate, 55.  "They were really on me about getting it checked out.”

Deep down, Poteate, a mechanical engineer, knew something was wrong with how he was getting around.

Poteate full"My balance was steadily declining, and I would occasionally stumble,” he said. “I was even beginning to subtly compensate for this lack of balance by altering my steps.”

There was nothing subtle, however, about the news Poteate received when he sought medical treatment from neurosurgeon George Huffmon, MD.

“He basically said, ‘Don’t go anywhere – this is serious, and we need to schedule surgery quickly," said Poteate.

Poteate’s MRI scan revealed significant spinal cord impingement,or compression, a condition where harmful pressure is exerted on the spinal cord, disrupting its normal function, including motor and coordination functions like walking. In Poteate’s case, the cause of this harmful pressure was a bulging disc and bone spur. Made up of individual bones, or vertebrae, separated by rubbery cushions known as intervertebral discs, the spine can become susceptible to injury and affect body function when these discs herniate or rupture and put pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.

“In Mr. Poteate’s case, the compromised disc was compressing the spinal cord affecting the coordination for motor skills, including his ability to walk,” said Dr. Huffmon. “That’s why his family and friends noticed his stumbling.”

Poteate’s condition was made worse because of its degree of severity – more aggravation of the disc could compromise Poteate’s ability to walk even more. A procedure called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, or ACDF, was the answer.

“ACDF is a surgery where we remove the disc or bone spurs that cause pressure on the nerves and then fuse the bones together. This can help the damage, pain or impact on body function resulting from spinal conditions like disc herniation or rupture,” said Dr. Huffmon. “In Mr. Poteate’s case, this procedure would fix his compromised disc and hopefully improve his balance and walking, returning him to a quality of life he once knew.”

Candidates for this procedure include those who are “symptomatic from pressure on their spinal cord or nerves from a ruptured disc or bone spur,” says Dr. Huffmon. Other symptoms may include pain, numbness, tingling weakness and balance problems. 

As for recovery, most patients go home the next day, said Dr. Huffmon, with some going home the day of surgery, depending on the extent of their procedure and proximity to the hospital.

“Patients are usually out of work for four to eight weeks depending on the complexity of the surgery and their occupation,” he said. “Most people can slowly resume their normal activities over two months.”

“I was thankful we had the talent and expertise in this town that I could have my spine surgery here,” said Poteate. “The care I got from everybody was exceptional and seamless.”

For Poteate, that meant a return to a life he once knew.  “My balance is better, my walking is better, and my family is glad to have me back,” he said.