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Joan Duncan

Norwalk, CT
  • Joan Duncan in the photo 1

After about a year of discomfort, unrelenting pain and several unsuccessful pain management procedures (epidurals and facet injections), I faced the fact that back surgery was on the horizon for me. I am now almost 10 months post-surgery, L 5, 4, and 3 of my spine have fused nicely, and my movement restrictions have been lifted. This is a success story. I feel good and my back feels stronger. I was not asked to write a review and I have purposely waited almost a year to give feedback on my full experience. (Back surgery is notorious for its difficulty, complications and, often less than perfect results.) I am thankful that this is NOT my outcome.

I had three converging spine issues – degenerative scoliosis (curvature of spine), stenosis (narrowing of nerve passageway) and spondylolisthesis (vertebrae slipped out of place). Since I understood this kind of spine surgery is an overlapping expertise I went to two neurosurgeons and three orthopedic surgeons for evaluation – each very highly recommended by other physicians who evaluated me. I ultimately decided on Dr. Han Jo Kim.

A convergence of my own independent research about his experience and credentials, recommendations from other knowledgeable physicians who’ve had family members treated by Dr. Kim, testimonials from other patients, and his philosophy of treatment led me to make an appointment with him. What I learned immediately is that he is a very thorough diagnostician: he used the latest and best diagnostic tools to reach a highly informed diagnosis. This meant a recent MRI of my lumbar spine area (6 months), x-rays from different angles, and a bone density test, before meeting with him. (Of the 4 other physicians who each required the MRI, he was the only one who required the bone density test and also his x-ray order required additional and different views of the spine.) I knew from his credentials that he was a highly trained and experienced spine surgeon. What I want to say here is that, I liked him at first meeting – I liked his energy and manner - he was confident, soft spoken, serious, perfectionistic as well as totally approachable. He listened carefully and he had clearly reviewed my test results thoroughly. He was patient in answering my list of questions and completely explained his recommendation for surgery. We had a conversation about me, he was focused on my concerns and what he felt he could do to address my pain. I was relieved and felt totally safe in his capable hands. I was totally at ease entering into the biggest surgery of my life.

I am truly grateful for the expert care I received every step of the way with Dr. Han Jo Kim, the pre- and post-operative medical team at Hospital for Special Surgery, and also importantly Dr. Kim’s office team – Theresa you are the best. The value of having such a superb team was a huge part of my smooth recovery at every stage. On each of my three visits to HSS the treatment I received was outstanding – friendly, knowledgeable, and professional receptionists, administrative staff, and technicians; the process was efficient, and organized. (I also appreciated the online registration that made the process very straightforward.) The recovery room nurses were extremely attentive following my surgery (which was 3.5 hours) and the 8th floor nursing staff were careful, watchful, encouraging, and professional. I had not appreciated just how important it was to choose the hospital for its excellence in addition to an outstanding surgeon.

I was looking at about 6 months of recovery where I would have restrictions – specifically no bending from the lower spine, lifting or twisting. I made a promise to myself that I would be totally compliant and committed to my healing process in order to give my back the best chance of a strong recovery. My spouse, family and friends helped me be patient as my body healed. After choosing Dr. Kim and team for my surgery, my second-best decision was how to make the recovery process easier for myself and my loved ones. For example, renting a semi-automatic hospital bed for the first 7 weeks of recovery, collapsible hand extender to pick up items I dropped, an inexpensive shower chair, long handle body brush and adjustable height commode. I ate high protein meals, lots of vegetables and got off pain medication as quickly as recommended. I took advantage of the home nursing options my Medicare and other insurance coverage afforded me. I walked daily and cautiously climbed stairs. My scar has matured nicely, I am now doing my PT, walking several miles a day, and about to start doing my lap swimming again, feeling stronger and stronger. I hope your journey is as successful as mine.