Neurosurgeon Needed Grandpa Broke His Neck

by Jason

It was the call you don't want to receive. My mom was calling to let me know that Grandpa was in the hospital and he had broken his neck again.

To put things into perspective when I was in grad school I received a similar phone call. My grandpa was staying at my parent's house and fell in the bathroom and hit his head.

He was immediately rushed to the local hospital and had a neurosurgery consult. The injury was really bad.

Next thing I know my Mom is asking me, "What is the better hospital for Grandpa to be airlifted to?" The options being Thomas Jefferson or UPENN I said have them take him to UPENN. As I was saying this my mom began to cry because I could hear in the background the nurses informing her the helicopter had arrived to take her father to the hospital in Philadelphia about 80 miles away from home.

Grandpa's surgery went better than expected and he made a full recovery and you'd never know he had broken his neck in the cervical region.

Fast forward to Friday.

Grandpa's neck was broken again and the neurosurgeon in Michigan needed to know what materials were used in the previous operation. My mom didn't recall and the medical chart didn't have this information only the type of operation that was performed.

Me being the medical student I was tasked with getting the details for the neurosurgeon in Michigan, Dr Bill.

I called UPenn Neurosurgery identified myself as the grandson and had healthcare power of attorney status so his records could be released to me. Within 90 minutes I had the information I needed and called Dr Bill with the details on his cellphone.

He was very appreciative and had one more request to get back in touch with UPenn and find out about the posterior plate in my Grandpa's neck. He stated there are lateral masses and rods and screws and he needed to know exactly what they were. Dr Bill said if he opened up my Grandpa and didn't have the correct drivers then we would be in a lot of trouble.

The neurosurgeon needed this information because he was going to use the same materials from the previous operation and fuse above and below the previous break.

Sunday things took a nosedive for the worse.

I called the neurosurgeon on his cellphone and he was saying he was concerned about performing the operation...not from a technical standpoint of if he could perform the operation but if my Grandpa could survive the operation.

My Grandpa has a number of health issues where performing the surgery has a high risk of death.
One alternative would be to avoid surgery and put him in a brace and halo but the neurosurgeon said this doesn't fix his broken neck and he would be bedridden.

The concern with this latter option is that his neck injury could become worse and totally compress the spinal cord turning Grandpa into a quadriplegic at any time during the rest of his life.

Dr Bill said this is one of the toughest cases he has seen because there are no good outcomes.

It's now Monday and I have skipped my Endocrinology exam to make my way to Michigan.


Learned that the nurses said my Grandpa is paralyzed in his arms and lower extremities and is basically a quadriplegic at this point.

Grandpa despite knowing all the risks has requested surgery. This goes against what the cardiologist advise and the neurosurgeon. But patients always get to choose their health and I support my Grandpa and his decision to go out fighting if not anything else.

This whole ordeal has been really tough on my Mom because her mother/grandpa's wife suffered complications from a brain aneurysm and died in November about 14 years ago.

I never thought I would have another encounter with a neurosurgeon who is tasked with saving my grandparent but this is now the case.

The neurosurgeon is very friendly and personable. He is open and candid with me and that may stem from the fact my Mom told him I'm a second year medical student.

I'm not sure of medical specialties to pursue but neurosurgery could be one because I like the work they do. Albeit I am not a fan of neuroscience so we shall see with time.

I'm a Christian so being prayerfully optimistic for a good outcome but also well aware the odds are not in our favor.

Grandpa be strong!

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