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Donna Dyrstad

Merrick, NY
  • Donna Dyrstad in the photo 1

After suffering with spine and nerve pain for 5 years and getting no relief from Holistic treatments, in the fall of 2015, it was time to seek out a different fix. After seeing 3 surgeons (other hospitals), I felt like I was getting nowhere fast. I was done with the egos and lack of concern and 5 minute appointments. I knew it was time to make an appointment at HSS to seek out the very best.

I was referred to Dr. Matthew Cunningham through HSS' Physician Referral Service. I was fortunate that he worked at both the NYC and the Uniondale campuses, and saw him in LI for our first consult.

By this visit I was a pro in interviewing surgeons. I had my book of questions and concerns, my discs of endless x-rays and MRI results, and was fairly well versed in my conditions.

Dr. Cunningham came in and his immediate kind and caring manner let me know I was in the very best place with the very best surgeon. He sat with me for well over an hour. He talked with me, not at me. He listened to everything I had to say. He explained every vertebrae and what was happening to my spine. Dr. Cunningham answered every question I had with patience and intelligence. And explained things again when I was unsure. Not once did I feel rushed, or that I was nothing more than a statistical number, unlike some of the other surgeons I had seen previously.

He explained my case would be quite extensive and involved. Dr. Cunningham did not sugarcoat my conditions, yet he did not frighten me. He has this way of making you feel completely at ease. He explained I would be in surgery about 6 hours, and that very likely my surgery would involve both anterior and posterior approaches on the same day. He also explained that my road to recovery would be quite long; one to two years. I walked out feeling overwhelmed, as he discovered conditions the other surgeons did not, yet I also felt oddly at ease. I left this appointment and 3 days later left for a solo trip to the Caribbean to think things over.

Upon my arrival back home, I called Dr. Cunningham's office and spoke with his wonderful assistant Tina. I told her I had made my decision and was ready to go ahead and schedule my surgery. Tina is a gem, she held my hand, answered my questions, and helped me navigate every step of my upcoming surgery. Every appointment for pre-op was handled through her and went flawless. I was scheduled for January 26, 2015 and the entire team at HSS was right there beside me every step of the way.

I saw Dr. Cunningham a couple more times to go over the extensive nature of my surgery and he explained how he was bringing in a vascular surgeon to help with the anterior part of the surgery.

The day of surgery, 5 am to be exact, I was ushered into the pre-op room; my vitals taken, bloods drawn, releases signed and Dr. Cunningham and the vascular surgeon both came in to sign off on my surgery.

When I woke up, I found out my surgery took over 9 hours. I also found out that I had 2 cages inserted through the front (anterior) and then 8 screws and rods through the back (posterior)- a bit longer than anyone anticipated. Of course I don't recall much those 1st few days, but I was up and out of the bed on day 2. Day 3, I was using the restroom with help. Day 4, I walked entirely around the nurses station with my aide. By the 5th day, I was being transferred to a Physical Rehab facility.

Every single day Dr. Cunningham visited me in the hospital. He sat, he talked with me, and he listened. Not once did I ever feel he was doing "hit and run" visits on his rounds. I felt like I really mattered to him.

The one huge thing I remember so vividly is that my nerve pain was gone. Gone as if I never had that searing shooting debilitating pain. Dr. Cunningham did what he said he would try to do. He lifted the vertebrae up and off my S1 nerve system. As far as I am concerned Dr. Cunningham is brilliant. He saved my life in so many ways physically and emotionally. He gave me my life back.

Fast forward 1 year later. My nerve pain is still absent! My spine is healing beautifully! I followed every direction from Dr. Cunningham and in return I was rewarded with a new life! I am now able to sit through an opera, I can climb steps without crawling, I can " do" again!

I can't begin to thank Dr. Cunningham enough, along with his team, and the entire staff at HSS. Every one of you at HSS is a professional, and kind and caring. There is no better place in the world to get your life back!