Disc Surgery Puts Deputy Sheriff Back in Action

J. Perlewitz, M.D.

The Orthopedic Institute of Wisconsin

Washington County Advertorial
Aurora Health Care/Kathy Teach 262-796-0167
February 1, 2005

A Washington County deputy sheriff, Patrick Pankratz needs a strong, healthy back to handle the day to day routine of his job. He’s constantly in and out of a patrol car and needs to be ready to move quickly at any given moment—despite being weighted down by a 28-pound belt equipped with a gun and extra ammunition, handcuffs, a portable radio, flashlight, keys and pepper spray. The physical demands of the job were never a problem for Pankratz, however, who at 47 is in great athletic shape. An avid runner and swimmer, he has never had a major health problem or injury . . . until last August.

“I started to notice pain in my hip when I ran,” Pankratz recalls. “I backed off of running but when the pain persisted for several weeks, I went to see my primary care physician. Rajesh Trivedi, MD, an internal medicine physician at the Aurora Health Center in West Bend, referred Pankratz to Tom Perlewitz, MD, a Harvard University-trained spinal specialist who had just joined Aurora’s orthopedic team in Washington County.

“I’ll always be thankful for that recommendation,” says Pankratz. “Dr. Perlewitz is top notch. We’re fortunate to have someone like him out here instead of having to drive into Milwaukee.”

Dr. Perlewitz diagnosed Pankratz with a herniated disc, a common injury resulting from a weakened area of one of the discs that sit between vertebrae in the spine. Each disc has a jelly-like center surrounded by outer rings, explains Dr. Perlewitz. “With a herniated disc, pressure causes the outer rings to rupture and the soft center to squeeze through. This compresses and irritates the nerve group for the area below, leading to symptoms like pain, tingling and numbness.” Dr. Perlewitz adds that herniated discs can be triggered by lifting, twisting, turning, or similar sudden motions. “But sometimes people just cough or sneeze and it occurs. A lot of times, patients don’t even know how it happened.”

Treatment for a herniated disc is often first approached with conservative measures such as oral steroids and epidural injections. When Pankratz experienced only temporary relief after two injections, Dr. Perlewitz recommended a specialized spinal surgery called microdiscectomy to remove the herniated disc material pressing on the nerve root. This newer version of an “open discectomy” has several distinct advantages.

“It involves only about a one-inch incision in the center of the back,” explains Dr. Perlewitz. “The procedure is done under magnification for better visualization of the nerve structures. There is minimal damage to bone and soft tissue, so it affords rapid recovery, less pain, and generally only an overnight stay in the hospital. Some people go home the same day. Best of all,” he adds, “the patient experiences immediate relief of their pre-operative symptoms.” Pankratz is living proof. Dr. Perlewitz performed his microdiscectomy September 28 at Aurora Medical Center in Hartford.

“The before and after was like night and day,” says Pankratz. “It was amazing. The day after surgery, I was up and around, feeling no pain at all.” Following a brief period of healing, Pankratz participated in physical therapy
to strengthen his spine and learn ways to prevent future problems. He returned to work 10 weeks after surgery and is well on the way to resuming his active lifestyle. “I’m biking and swimming, and by spring, I expect to be back up on my running miles,” he says. “I really feel just great.”


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