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Patient Stories

From time to time we will share stories from our patients who came to Pacific Brain & Spine for surgery after trying other modalities. Patients find our neurosurgeons to be kind, compassionate and truly caring. They are also trained in the most advanced, minimally invasive surgical technologies. Patients spring back quickly after recovery, with less pain and stress. Read their stories and hear it from them.

Back Surgery Gets School Principal Back in the Swim

Kara Holthe loved her work as a principal and eagerly looked forward to a retreat with her fellow school administrators during the fall of 2013.

Unfortunately, with pain radiating down her back and left leg, she could hardly sit still for the two-day get away.

Returning home to Dublin after the retreat, she saw her primary care physician who recommended an MRI – which Kara postponed.

As the months went by, however, the pain was so severe she could hardly walk up and down the bleachers at her beloved Dublin High School where she’s an assistant principal, after having served as a principal for both a local elementary and middle school.

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Kara is responsible for 700 of the 2,800 student that attend the high school.  She offers a shoulder to lean on for those facing difficult family issues while she also passionately champions the school’s arts program.

Being unable to get around proved a significant challenge for this consummate outdoorswoman who grew up on a lake in Minnesota where she skated, canoed, and played hockey along with participating in swimming, running, and track programs. As an adult, she also backpacked in Yosemite and the Northern Cascades, and enjoyed being a road cyclist.

To address the disc degeneration, Kara decided to undergo a minimally invasive procedure called transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF) procedure. TLIF fuses the anterior and posterior columns of the spine. An interbody spacer and bone graft is used to restore the degenerated disc’s height. The vertebral bones are stabilized with small pedicle screws to restore the spine’s structural integrity. Dr. Mimran also removed Kara’s compressive synovial cyst.

After the procedure, Kara strictly followed Dr. Mimran’s recovery protocol of walking as much as possible. “I started with a walker around our cul de sac and pretty soon I was walking 20 minutes, three times a day,” she says. “The radiating pain was gone pretty quickly after surgery, and six weeks after the procedure I was able to go swimming.”

Besides getting back in the pool and in her work, Kara has also returned to biking, hiking, and doing Pilates.

“I never worry about my back now and I tell everyone how great the surgery is because everyone is afraid of back surgery. I have my quality of life back and I can really do anything.”

To underscore that point, Kara reports that she can now hang upside down from her ankles and carry a canoe on her head!


Zoie and Her Master Reunite for Daily Walks After Minimally Invasive Back Surgery

Since 1974, Peter K, 79, has been enjoying life in the Gold Country of Sonora, CA, especially since he is surrounded by his loving wife of 56 years, his two daughters, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren who all live in the vicinity. After 40 years as a successful real estate broker, Peter has shifted his role from breadwinner to the family’s pro bono personal assistant.

Peter is also an avid reader and collector of first edition books, enjoys cooking and is a wine aficionado.

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After two hip replacements and one shoulder replacement Peter remained active, exercising and walking his dog Boston Terrier Zoie.

“With three prosthetics I’m limited but I managed to stay in shape.”

But in 2013 life changed for Peter when he began having severe sciatic nerve pain in both legs.

“I’d be walking Zoie and a shooting pain would strike to the point where my knee would buckle. I also had to stop working out at the gym, and worst of all, I couldn’t accompany my wife on vacations. For three years I endured constant pain, even with multiple epidural shots. When the last two shots no longer relieved the pain I felt I had no choice. I had to have surgery if I wanted to return to a normal life.”

Peter called Sutter Health in Sacramento where he’d had surgery for his hips and shoulder, and he was referred to Dr. Dickinson at Pacific Brain & Spine. Since Peter had lived in Danville before he settled in Sonora the location gave him confidence to make the 100-mile trip south. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and bulging discs in his lumbar vertebra (L3-L4 and L4-L5), which were causing nerve root compression and the pain in his back and legs.

“Dr. Dickinson was very personable but also clearly concerned about my back issues. He explained in detail the type of minimally invasive surgery he would perform if I decided to proceed, but that the decision was mine alone. He did not pressure me. He even suggested that in many cases people are able to work out the pain through exercise.

“I was immediately comfortable. He put me at ease. When I left my appointment I felt like we were friends and I knew he was the surgeon to operate when I was ready.”

Peter eventually made the choice to have surgery. Dr. Dickinson performed a lumbar decompression where a section of bone (or damaged disc) is removed from the spinal bones to relieve pressure on the affected nerves.

The minimally invasive procedure took less than two hours, followed by two hours in post-operative care. On the long ride back to Sonora Peter experienced no pain or discomfort.

As soon as he walked in the house he was able to walk up and down the hall several times. Five days after surgery he was walking ½ a mile and resumed taking Zoie out for her daily walks. Peter has returned to physical chores around the house, is able to lift 50 pounds, and has no more shooting leg pain to keep him awake at night.

“Through the year since I’ve had surgery I have not experienced any sciatic pain,” Peter said. “I couldn’t be happier. I would consider Dr. Dickinson the spine specialist to go to.”