“Making that appointment was the best thing I ever did,” says Delmy Martinez, recalling her first visit to Dr. Alexandros Powers. Alexandros Powers, MD, FAANS, is a professor of neurosurgery at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center and a national authority on lumbar spondylolisthesis, an often-painful spinal condition caused by one or more of the spine’s vertebrae slipping out of place. Delmy, 55, had suffered from lumbar spondylolisthesis since she was a teenager, but the pain in her legs and back was worsening.
Some days, it was hard to even get out of bed. After trying a range of unsuccessful treatments, Delmy’s neurologist referred her to Dr. Powers. Dr. Powers is an expert neurosurgeon, but he prides himself on his efforts to avoid surgery for his patients as much as his ability to operate when necessary. “There is a tendency in the field to jump right to surgery as a treatment for lumbar spondylolisthesis,” explains Dr. Powers. “That’s misguided. In over 90 percent of cases, we can get patients feeling better without surgery.”
Delmy and Dr. Powers decided on rehabilitation and medication as first steps. Working with MedStar Montgomery’s rehabilitation care team, Delmy began a customized physical and occupational therapy plan.
Delmy had tried physical therapy before, but was more impressed by the personalized approach at MedStar Montgomery. “It wasn’t one size fits all,” she says.
After a few weeks, Dr. Powers and Delmy’s rehabilitation team assessed her progress. For most patients, nonsurgical approaches are all that’s needed. But the bones in Delmy’s spine were shifting too severely, causing nerve pressure that couldn’t be treated nonsurgically. Delmy, Dr. Powers and her rehabilitation specialists all agreed that surgery was the next step.
“My co-workers asked me, ‘Aren’t you scared of spinal surgery?’” Delmy recalls. “I really wasn’t, because I trusted Dr. Powers.”
In April 2017, Delmy was admitted for surgery. Lumbar spondylolisthesis surgery requires removing bone matter that is pressing on the nerves. In some cases, it also requires inserting a piece of synthetic material to give the spine extra support, called a spinal fusion. In Delmy’s case, spinal fusion was needed.
Dr. Powers has performed thousands of these procedures over a decades-long career, relying upon microsurgical techniques originally designed for brain surgery. High-powered magnification, specialized tools and pain medication injected at the surgical site all reduce the patient’s pain and speed recovery time. While less sophisticated techniques can keep a patient recovering for weeks, Dr. Powers’ patients often heal much more quickly.
In Delmy’s case, she spent just two nights in the hospital. While her recovery continues at home, her pain is nearly gone.
Today, Delmy gets out of bed with gusto. She can play with her 11-month-old granddaughter and stand up with the congregation at her church. She continues to work with her rehabilitation team on regaining her ability to do small tasks that were once too painful to consider, like bending down to tie her shoes.
At her last visit with Dr. Powers, Delmy had a question for her surgeon: “I asked him, ‘Can I hug you?’” Delmy laughs. “I am so grateful to the team at MedStar Montgomery. They gave me my life back.”