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Stanton Schiffer, M.D.
Western Neurosurgical Clinic
39210 State Street
Fremont, CA 94536
I am writing to give you an update on my condition. As you will recall, in August of 1995, 1 was evaluated by you for neck and arm pain of a severe nature. I was troubled not only by the pain, but also by the fact that I was unable to play tennis or participate in any worthwhile exercise program. As a consequence, I was losing not only an enjoyable emotional outlet, but also my cardiovascular fitness.
Before seeing you, I had consulted with two prominent neurosurgeons at Harvard. Both reviewed the MRI of my cervical region and my cervical x-rays and examined me. The first physician told me that he felt I would require a discectomy and a fusion at C5-6 and C7-8, if my symptoms persisted. He felt I would also require that he scrap the exposed vertebrae to remove the osteophytes, which he felt were largely responsible for my symptoms.
I was concerned that I would have difficulty bearing not only the post-operative pain, but also the confinement to an extensive neck brace for weeks after the procedure. I was also concerned that the fusions would unduly stress my other vertebrae and cause me significant additional neck problems in my future. Because I was so concerned, about all of the anticipated pain, complications, as well as the associated loss in my income, I asked the doctor about the percutaneous discectomy which you had described to me. He became quite disdainful, indicating that such a procedure would have horrifying risks and would not address the true cause of my symptoms, the osteophytes. From my talk with you I had had a different impression about the risks, and so I asked him to elaborate on those. He said there were a number of hazardous structures in the area which posed great danger such as the carotid artery and jugular vein. I mentioned that you told me you could easily palpate the vertebrae and avoid those structures. He did not answer, but his demeanor towards me, which had been very warm and respectful up to the point of my asking about the procedure, became quite abrupt and I felt he was angry. As he whisked me out of his office, I asked if he would call you to discuss your procedure. He indicated that he would, but he never did. I never heard further from him.
The second physician was not disdainful of the percutaneous procedure, but he felt that as a new procedure, it would have unknown risks until it was perfected and he advised me against having it. He agreed with my reluctance to undergo the procedure that the first doctor had described. He suggested that he operate from the back of my neck, make a window in the wing of my vertebra from which to remove the bulging disk between C5 and C6. He felt he would leave C6-C7 alone.
After I had these evaluations, I spoke with you again and asked further questions especially about the role of the osteophytes and the risks of the procedure. I was impressed with your logic and thoughtfulness. I then consulted with two radiologists. After considering for several days all the information I could gather, I decided to fly to California to be evaluated by you, and to undergo the procedure if it seemed indicated.
We decided that I should have a percutaneous discectomy at C5-6 and C6-7. The next day I underwent the procedure, performed by you. I believe the entire procedure took about 1 1/2 hours. The procedure was performed as day surgery, and I was able to leave the hospital about two hours after the completion of the procedure. Even immediately after the procedure, there was negligible post-operative pain from the surgery. I did still have neck and arm pain though less than before the surgery. You indicated that you felt my symptoms were due to nerve swelling and irritation and anticipated that they would resolve over the next few weeks. The pain did resolve over that period and I have remained pain free from that time through the present, a year and a half later. Beginning 9 months after the procedure on your advice, I gradually went back to playing tennis and by the summer was playing singles regularly. I have a full active life that includes one on one basketball with my 17-year-old neighbor. In fact, my only complaint about the procedure is that I continue to lose to him.
Stanton, I very deeply want to thank you. Your dedication, your ingenuity and creativity enabled you to develop a technique that literally saved my neck. That you have done this in the face of unjust and ill-considered professional criticism speaks to the personal courage I have always known you to have.