My name is Amanda McKinney. I am a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, I work in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and my life was forever changed by Dr. Frank Schwab. I have scoliosis and degenerative disc disease. I have had three spinal fusions, one surgery for removal of a broken Harrington rod, and a surgery for the placement of a spinal cord stimulator. I suffer from chronic pain and nerve damage, though have been able to work through the pain and work in the hospital as both a nurse and nurse practitioner. However, in December 2018, I was doing physical therapy and fell. I quickly knew that something was wrong. I found out that I had four broken screws from my most recent spinal fusion and the fall displaced the bones around the screws. This lead to nerve impingement, making it so I could not work and could not walk without a walker. After many x-rays, many second opinions, and many dismal predictions of my future, I was ready to stop searching for answers.
My middle sister lives in New York City and was out at a restaurant and a friendly man started talking with her. After talking, she asked what he did and he stated that he was an orthopedic surgery resident in town for a conference about cutting edge technology for spinal surgery. My sister quickly showed him the pictures of my x-rays on her phone and he looked at her and said, I have the answer. He took her phone and simply wrote “HSS - Schwab.” He told her that Dr. Schwab was the only man for the job, and that he could fix my back. My sister sent me this note and I quickly called HSS, looking for the man with the answers. I was quickly connected, and Natalia ensured that I got his first available appointment.
Upon arrival, Dr. Schwab first examined me, noting that I could not stand up straight unless my legs were bent 45*. For the last four years, I have had to stand and walk leaning forward, and not one physician has been able to figure out an answer to fix it. Twenty minutes after meeting me, Dr. Schwab called my family into his office and spoke of the surgery he planned to do. It was the first time ever that my whole family understood and agreed upon the plan that a physician had made for me. After all of our questions were answered in detail by Dr. Schwab, Debra, and Natalie, we scheduled surgery and were ready to find an answer.
I had surgery with Dr. Schwab on February 12, 2019. On June 15, 2019, I returned to work as a nurse practitioner, working 24 hour shifts in the neonatal intensive care unit. I am now able to walk two miles four times a week, after being able to walk even half a mile since 2013. I am able to walk standing straight up without having to bend my knees for the first time in four years. I am taking less medicine than ever before, and I am working hard to use my pain and experience to help improve the care I provide my patients. For me, getting back in the game means getting to be an active participant in my career, my family life, and my social life. I finally am able to plan things as I want to, and not just around my back pain. For the first time since college, I am moving away from my hometown of Nashville, TN. I am finally able to be completely independent and thrive in my own way while safely caring for my back.
Dr. Schwab was the first person to believe that I could have a life that would not be defined by my chronic pain. His nurse, Natalie, visited me while I was in the hospital and cheered me on as I made progress. Dorota and Natalia worked to ensure that I was able to have all of my post op needs met and Debbie worked tirelessly to make sure that I healed safely. Dr. Schwab and his team were a gift to me and to my family. After this surgery, my quality of life has drastically improved. I am finally able to have a hopeful vision for my future which I haven’t been able to have since the series of surgeries began at age fifteen. Because of this surgery, I am able to better care for both myself and the patients I see as a nurse practitioner. I will forever be grateful for Dr. Schwab and his team.