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Lee McLean suffered from back and leg pain for over 20 years before a spinal fusion surgery helped her regain an active life.

Lee McLean’s back and leg pain started over 20 years ago. Through the years, she sought out medical care that included steroid injections, laminectomy surgery, physical therapy and even a less traditional treatment, acupuncture. Lee felt some temporary relief after her surgery, but the chronic pain of sciatica returned. She sought relief from a combination of NSAIDs and opioid pain medicine. “While walking the dog, I’d go half a block and need to crouch down and curl into a fetal position on the ground to relieve some of the pressure on the nerves,” she recalls.

Lee was losing hope – her pain was not only getting worse, but spreading to both sides of her body. She was referred to a few different specialists, but no one was able to help. She remembers thinking, “I guess this is something I’m just going to have to live with.”

Having just retired as the Chair of UNC’s Allied Health Department, Lee dreamed of traveling overseas to walk and visit historic sights, but knew she could not enjoy or fully participate in such trips due to her chronic leg pain. While visiting her son in Washington D.C., she rented a mobility scooter to do some limited sightseeing.

Lee’s primary care physician was determined to help and referred her to Dr. Deb Bhowmick, a UNC neurosurgeon. After reviewing an x-ray of Lee’s spine, Dr. Bhowmick was able to quickly identify the cause of her pain. Lee was in need of a fusion treatment for two vertebrae that had slipped forward due to severe arthritic changes.

After careful consideration of the intensive surgery that would be required, Lee decided to proceed. “Dr. Bhowmick was just super all the way through in terms of explaining what he was going to do, how it would work, and what the odds would be for recovery. I was very impressed with him all around.”

A year has passed since Lee’s surgery and her life has changed dramatically. “I can now walk and garden pain-free. I was finally able to take my first river cruise last year and enjoyed hours of sight-seeing on foot through medieval villages in southern France. And, this past week I’ve even been shoveling snow off of my own sidewalk. I have my life back!”

Lee advises patients with similar issues not to give up if physical therapy or other treatments don’t work. “Push to see someone who specializes in your condition.” Lee is happily spreading the word of her amazing recovery within her retirement community to help give hope to others in chronic pain.