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Shauna Holiman

New Preston, CT
  • Shauna Holiman in the photo 1
  • Shauna Holiman in the photo 2

I am a right-handed, almost 60 year old artist and musician. (I was trained as a classical singer, spent much of my adult life singing and now make art full time and study piano with great seriousness.) Suffice it to say, I now do everything with my hands. You can imagine my dismay when I developed pain down my right arm causing debilitating muscle cramps in my forearm. Forget about playing the piano at all and sitting at the drawing table could last all of about 45 minutes a day. If this kept up, my life was over. I tried everything: all the traditional western medicine solutions and many of the more promising alternative therapies. 8 months went by and nothing at all worked. Then I contacted Dr. Todd Albert at HSS who recommended an anterior cervical discectomy to relieve the pressure on the nerve.

In this surgery, they approach the spine from the front, sliding the vocal mechanism to one side while repairing the spine and afterwards pretty much guarantee you the worst sore throat of your life. Although I do not sing all that much anymore, once a singer always a singer and I entered that surgery terrified and assuming I was sacrificing my voice to save my right arm. Age forces compromises – that’s just the way it is and I figured I had to live with it.

I am happy to report that, undoubtedly due to the phenomenal skill of Dr. Albert and his team as well as the expert anesthesiologist, I compromised nothing. In less than a month I was virtually pain free and back making art. It’s taking longer to work up to a full load of piano practice but I’m making steady progress. And, my voice is just fine.

May I also say that the people that Dr. Albert has assembled to work with him comprise one of the most empathetic groups of humans I have ever encountered, certainly in a medical environment. On several occasions I found myself wondering what they were doing to make me feel so comfortable. Perhaps it was just so obvious that they are all supremely competent – a tremendous relief. I am so very grateful.

July 7, 2021:

Seven years ago, at age 59, I had a cervical spinal fusion (C4, 5, and 6) under Dr. Todd Albert. It was a huge success and a super positive experience.

This time, I also had a wonderful experience with everyone at HSS but it was marred by the actions of my private insurance company. I am now eligible for Medicare but not signed up for it as my husband is still employed and I am covered under his firm’s health insurance. At age 59, the same insurance company (same employer, same policy) preapproved my surgery without a single question or contingency. Now at age 66 with same problem, same doctor, same hospital, same procedure, different vertebra, they threw every bureaucratic hurdle in my way that they could including making criteria for approval a moving target and offering up incompetent medical directors to review my case. It was shocking and I didn't think this sort of thing could happen to me. They just didn't want to pay for my surgery and would rather that Medicare did. This resulted in one cancelled surgery, months of pain-filled waiting and a boatload of aggravation, just when I didn’t need it. It was an appalling demonstration of cynical brinkmanship that persisted right up through pre-surgical testing day.

Natisha Ross, Dr. Albert’s fabulous PA, and Betsy Reyes, equally fabulous, who handles billing, went through bureaucratic hell getting my surgery approved for me. The insurance company wasted hours and hours of their time and caused them an unbelievable amount of stress and frustration. But both Betsy and Natisha kept at it and gladly accepted the help of, and worked seamlessly with, the Benefits Team at my husband’s firm. The last-minute dénouement was dramatic, but thanks to the efforts of strong women on both teams, the insurance company finally caved in. This only happened because everyone on my side stayed fierce and unflinchingly stood up for what was fair and right.

The face of surgery is often the doctors and nurses. I never would have seen them had it not been for Natisha and Betsy, who saw to it that my surgery was appropriately paid for. Like it or not, the path to healthcare runs straight through insurance companies whose focus is on profit for their shareholders. In contrast, everyone in Dr. Albert's ultra-competent group are people who hold the best outcome for me foremost in their minds, work tirelessly on my behalf and treat me, always. as an empowered member of my own health care team. It doesn't get better than this and I am deeply grateful.

BTW, this second surgery went great and I am, as they say, Back in the Game. YAY!