During an agility class at Canine Academy in Bolivia, several small dogs ran through, over and around the obstacles at varying speeds. Some sprinted so fast that they missed a tunnel or a jump, and other completed every obstacle, including the challenging weave, where they dart between six poles spaced about 24 inches apart.
The weaving poles were particularly challenging for Vega, trainer Lorretta Pyeatt’s own Rottweiler. With a chest width of about 13 inches, a Rottweiler in weaving poles looks a bit like a Jeep running through a motorcycle course.
Agility, of course, is not the breed’s most prized trait. Lorretta’s Rottweilers are show dogs, with beautiful coats, warm eyes, and proud chests, and she has bred some of the top Rottweilers in the world.
In April 2017, she took a friend’s Rottweiler to a dog show and helped him earn his championship. In the process, though, Lorretta aggravated a back injury that had been bothering her for about 15 years. Handling a 130-pound bundle of energy can put some tremendous torque on the handler’s body, and Lorretta felt her pain intensify.
The pain seriously cramped Lorretta’s involvement in her business. She could only endure the pain for a couple of hours before she had to rest in a recliner.
Lorretta sought the help of Dr. George Huffmon, a neurosurgeon with Atlantic Neurosurgical and Spine Specialists. Dr. Huffmon performs surgeries at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
Dr. Huffmon diagnosed Lorretta with spondylolisthesis, a condition where one vertebra slides over another. This pinches nerves, which causes pain and numbness that radiate down the leg. Dr. Huffmon said this injury is common in football, gymnastics and cheerleading -- impact sports that put pressure on the spine.
Lorretta had been on prescription pain medications in years past, and she asserted that she did not want to return to that situation. Dr. Huffmon recommended that Lorretta try a series of epidural injections before he would recommend surgery. The injections served two purposes: they temporarily relieved the pain, and they helped Dr. Huffmon determine that surgery would be a long-term solution to the pain.
“I always recommend conservative management,” Dr. Huffmon said. “If these methods fail, then we will consider surgery.”
Dr. Huffmon performed an extreme lateral interbody fusion surgery using the Mazor X robotic surgery system at the NHRMC Surgical Pavilion. This minimally invasive approach allows the surgeon to perform the operation through several small incisions.
Dr. Huffmon is one of the first in the country to perform this procedure, which is really two surgeries. Through an incision in the side, Dr. Huffmon removes damaged disks, which are putting pressure on the nerves, and replaces them with synthetic spacers. Without moving the patient, Dr. Huffmon makes small incisions in the back, where he uses the robot to screw stabilizers onto the vertebrae. This method encourages the vertebrae to fuse together, ensuring long-term success.
“We did not have to move her between the two surgeries,” Dr. Huffmon said. “Keeping her in the same position decreases operative time, which reduces the risk of certain complications.”
Lorretta didn’t experience immediate pain relief after surgery. For the first two weeks, she felt considerable pain. But the pain was different -- a symptom of the surgery, not lingering pain from spondylolisthesis.
“That’s pretty common,” Dr. Huffmon said. “For the first week or two after surgery, my patients want to punch me, but after a few weeks, they want to hug me.”
Lorretta was walking within a week after her surgery, and about a month later, she was feeling less pain.
“She’s a very motivated person, and that always helps,” Dr. Huffmon said. Patients who follow post-surgical instructions will usually have a better recovery.
After two months, Lorretta said she felt “little to no pain.”
And she was back to work at Canine Academy, greeting customers, moving obstacles and cleaning the facility. Most importantly, she’s able to handle those big Rottweilers.
“Dr. Huffmon gave me an opportunity to get my life back,” she said.
Related blog: Read about the remarkable recovery of Dillon Brown, who broke his neck diving into shallow water. Through the faith of his family and the dedication of the talented team at NHRMC, Dillon recovered at an amazing pace.