Chronic-pain sufferer gives thanks for nerve surgery

By Virginia Ross

The grandmother originally went to the doctor to seek relief for another foot problem.

LISBON — Agnes Gregory got busy Wednesday baking pies and other goodies she typically prepares for her family to enjoy on Thanksgiving.

Today, the two stoves in her Wayne Township home are filled with holiday treats she’s made for her six children, 15 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.

“This is always a time of thanks,” she said. “But this year is very special to me. I’ve really looked forward to it.”

Gregory explained that Thanksgiving 2008 will mark the first holiday in close to eight years that she hasn’t experienced any physical discomfort or pain.

In October, the 70-year-old woman underwent a surgical procedure to alleviate neuropathy in her feet — a long-term ailment that had caused her persistent pain and fatigue. Neuropathy is a disease or abnormality of the nervous system.

“My feet hurt when I was walking,” she said. “Sometimes I felt like I was pulling two large lumps around, but these lumps really hurt. I couldn’t rest because the pain got worse when I tried to relax, sit down or go to sleep.

“It was horrible. I was tired all the time because I was up all hours of the night, moving my feet, trying to find comfort or ease the pain. But nothing worked. I just lived with it. It was like throbbing toothaches.”

Gregory, a retired school bus driver now working at the Lisbon library, said most days the pain was severe. Every night she placed an ice pack on her feet to ease the pain. The cold helped, although she never enjoyed a full night’s sleep.

And then something happened to change her life.

Gregory learned she had a bone spur in her foot and consulted with Dr. Joe Francisco, a podiatrist and surgeon with Ankle & Foot Care Centers in Columbiana.

Gregory told the doctor about her persistent pain, and he suggested performing a nerve decompression surgery to address her neuropathy and relieve pressure from the swollen nerves resulting from the condition.

The surgery was done on an outpatient basis the morning of Oct. 15. Gregory said she was home by noon that same day. In no time, she was walking and resting with no pain or discomfort. She needed no physical therapy.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “I never needed any pain medicine, and I haven’t had any pain since. The change has been like night and day, very dramatic. God used one problem to bring attention to another. He got me into the right hands, and I am very grateful.

“I just thought I would have to live with it. I can’t even say how my life has changed. I can tell you that night after my surgery was the first time in a long time I got a good night’s sleep.”

Dr. Francisco said Gregory was diagnosed with diabetic neuro- pathy. Patients with this condition, common among diabetics, typically have the symptoms Gregory suffered when the nerves are compressed, Francisco said.

The goal of the surgery is to restore blood flow to the nerves and reduce the swelling, ending the numbness and tingling patients like Gregory typically experience.

The plan was for Gregory to undergo two procedures — one on her left leg and another, at a later time, on her right leg. But Gregory insists the surgery on her left leg took care of the pain in both feet.

“Dr. Francisco told me it would work, and I said I’d try anything to get rid of this pain,” she recalled. “And it worked. I’d recommend it for anyone.”

The surgery involved three small incisions — near Gregory’s knee, on her foot and at her ankle. A week after the surgery she had some of her stitches removed. By the second week they were all gone.

“One great thing about this surgery is that there’s really no recovery time involved,” Dr. Francisco said. “It’s a quick procedure and one that is quick to heal. The benefits are typically immediate.”

Dr. Francisco said physicians have been performing the surgery for about 10 years, and he began offering it to his patients locally three years ago. He said he advises anyone with diabetic neuropathy to act quickly on their own behalf.

He explained that when the surgery is performed early on in the course of nerve compression, the procedure can restore blood flow to the nerves, end the numbness and tingling and allow the nerves to recover.

He said patients are screened to make sure they are candidates for the surgery. He said he typically performs up to three nerve decompression surgeries each week and provides consulting services for many more patients.

“Not everyone is a candidate for this surgery or any surgery,” he said. “It is an invasive procedure. But because of the benefits patients can receive from this, it’s in their best interest to explore it as an option, especially when medicines typically used to treat the neuro- pathy do not work.

“Agnes is a perfect example of someone whose life has truly benefited from this,” the doctor said. “That’s what really matters. That’s what counts.”

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