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I thought this would be a new normal, and my family depends on me. I thought ‘this is it.’

Stanley works as a construction worker in North Carolina, and as one would expect in this field, his job is physically demanding.Peripheral nerve surgeon Dr. Mark Attiah with Stanley When Stanley started to struggle with debilitating neck pain that led to a limp and numbness in his arms and hands, he knew he needed to seek medical help.

Stanley is a self-proclaimed perfectionist when it comes to his profession. He wants to be hands-on. Before the onset of his symptoms, Stanley was lifting pianos, stripping popcorn ceilings, and painting homes. Then one day, he developed intense pain in his neck. “My neck hurt so bad, I thought I was going to faint,” recalled Stanley.

Soon after his neck pain started, Stanley developed a limp that became worse each day. He also became so numb and weak in his arms and hands that he couldn’t hold a paintbrush. “When my walking started going and my hands, I knew I had to do something,” said Stanley. “It was getting worse every day. One day in my left leg, next day, my hand then both hands both legs. I thought this would be a new normal, and my family depends on me. I thought ‘this is it.’”

At this point, Stanley went to his local emergency room for help. He was told that he was probably dehydrated. Stanley had been working hard for decades and knew that something was wrong with his body. An x-ray did not show anything abnormal in his neck or back. When he pushed for additional tests, he was told that his insurance would not cover an MRI until he spent at least six months completing physical therapy.

Peripheral nerve surgeon Mark Attiah showing Stanley his imagingStanley knew he could not wait six months for help. His symptoms had become debilitating and he could no longer work. As the provider for his family and with a son in college, he needed answers fast.

Stanley and his wife traveled to the emergency room at the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill. At this point, Stanley could barely walk and had to be wheeled into the emergency room in a wheelchair. Because of the way he was walking, the ER doctors ordered an MRI, suspecting that something was wrong with his spine. At this point, Stanley met with spine and peripheral nerve surgeon, Dr. Mark Attiah.

The MRIs confirmed that Stanley had a herniated disc that was pressing against his spinal cord behind one of the bones in his neck putting a severe amount of pressure on his spinal cord, and compression on the spinal cord in his lower back. Dr. Attiah explained his diagnosis to him, and that it would require immediate surgery. Stanley had never been to a hospital in his life and had never had problems with his health, so he and his wife were very nervous upon hearing that Stanley would require spine surgery. “Dr. Attiah made me feel so comfortable,” said Stanley. “He came in and showed me all of my imaging and answered all of my questions. He didn’t rush me, he was so patient.”

Stanley went into the emergency room at UNC Health at Chapel Hill on a Sunday and stayed in the hospital until his decompression surgery on Tuesday morning on his neck. “After the first surgery on my neck I had no pain whatsoever,” said Stanley. “I was turning pain medicine away. No pain in my neck since.”

Post-surgery, Stanley could walk after a day in recovery and could feel strength returning to his hands. “In his lower thoracic spine, Stanley had overgrown, calcified ligament on both sides that had likely grown that way over years putting a vice-like squeeze on his spinal cord,” explained peripheral nerve and spinal neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Attiah. “Usually cervical myelopathy happens over time as a chronically degenerative process, to the point where many chalk up the symptoms to just getting old. This process happened quickly to an otherwise healthy person, which made it easier to discern that something was wrong.”

“I only have a few heroes, but Dr. Attiah is on that list now.”

On Friday Stanley went in for his second surgery in his lower back. “I felt a little soreness on my back after surgery, but no pain,”Peripheral nerve surgeon Dr. Mark Attiah with Stanley - UNC Health said Stanley. “Dr. Attiah is doing what he is called to do from birth,” said Stanley. “I was afraid, I had never had surgery on my back. That experience I had in the hospital, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Stanley spent less than two weeks recovering in the hospital before he was discharged to go home. “Dr. Attiah came to visit me on his days off,” said Stanley. “He knew that I was worried. The nurses talked about how glad they were to have him on staff.”

Now, Stanley is back to supervising on construction sites and is cleared to work again with a few minor restrictions while he completes physical therapy. He’s walking around his neighborhood and feels great.

Stanley has told his entire family and community to go to UNC Health and see Dr. Attiah for severe back pain. “I couldn’t walk and I thought I would be like that for the rest of my life,” said Stanley. “I only have a few heroes, but Dr. Attiah is on that list now.”