Reclaiming her passion for fitness after spinal surgery

For Kaitlyn B., fitness is more than just recreation. It’s a way of life. A few years ago, when she wasn’t doing Crossfit or other activities, she was training for a half marathon. However, just a few months later, she was sidelined by pain.

“After a week or two of training runs, my right hip had a lot of pain. I backed off on running for a while and tried to pick it up again,” she explained. “Every time I tried again that right hip gave me so much pain.”

Disappointed, she decided to put her goal on hold and let her hip rest. Just a while later, though, the intermittent pain she had been experiencing became a problem she could no longer ignore.

“My husband and I went on a really big hike, and the pain was so bad,” Kaitlyn says.

She went to see an orthopedist who ran imagining and ultrasound tests, but nothing appeared abnormal in her lumbar spine. In search of answers, she followed up with primary care physician, but she was still unable to figure out the cause of her pain, which had begun impacting her sleep.

“I had to change my workouts, and I really started slipping into a depression because I had no idea what was happening and didn’t know why nothing was helping,” Kaitlyn admits.

She decided to see a physical therapist who asked her if she had injured her spine. After getting additional imaging done, she finally had her answer. The pain doctor she had been seeing called to tell Kaitlyn she had a tumor on her spine at T11 and T12, which is higher up the back and explained why it didn’t appear on her earlier lumbar spine tests. She was referred to Luis M. Tumialan, MD, a neurosurgeon and independent member of the HonorHealth Medical Staff.

“Thank goodness Kaitlyn had a benign tumor called a meningioma, which originates from the cells of the layers of the central nervous system,” notes Dr. Tumialan.

While benign, these tumors can become problematic when they grow. Although they’re most commonly found in the brain, they can occur anywhere in the nervous system. If Kaitlyn’s tumor hadn’t been discovered, the lesion would have grown to a point where she would have had a neurological deficit, as well as weakness or numbness that would never resolve.

Reclaiming her passion for fitness after spinal surgery

The treatment was surgery, and Kaitlyn was afraid she would never return to her former fitness level afterwards. Dr. Tumialan set her at ease by connecting her with another patient with a similar condition who had thrived after spinal surgery.

“Dr. Tumialan got me on the surgery schedule as soon as he could,” says Kaitlyn. “I was terrified knowing I had a tumor, but I was relieved I wasn’t crazy and there was a cause for the pain.”

In September 2021, Dr. Tumialan performed a minimally invasive laminectomy to remove the spinal tumor. This surgery would commonly be performed with a midline open approach. However, he resected the lesion through a 30-milimeter incision, which is a more novel approach and only performed in highly specialized centers.

“That approach was essential in someone like Kaitlyn,” says Dr. Tumialan.

The surgery was a success, and Dr. Tumialan attributed how well it went in part to Kaitlyn’s excellent fitness level.

“Kaitlyn demonstrates that the better shape you are in going into surgery, whatever surgery that may be, the better you are going to recover from that surgery,” he adds.

She is thrilled to have made a full recovery. Although she still has a bit of sensory numbness in her leg, she is completely pain free, which has changed her life.

“I didn’t realize how much I had given up. Now I can go on car trips, and I resumed my activities and all my lifting,” she says. “Dr. Tumialan completely changed my life, which often brings me to tears.”