Tina Maffucci is a 5’3” bundle of energy. “I’ve always been very active,” she says. “Between raising two children and teaching hundreds of fourth graders over the last 26 years, there’s been no time to slow down.” But slow down she did.
Tina can’t exactly pinpoint when her problem first started. Noticeable symptoms came on slowly, starting with intermittent pain in her lower back and radiating into her legs. Then the pain grew more persistent and intense. It hurt to drive her soccer-playing daughter to away games. And it really hurt to teach. “You can’t sit behind a desk when you teach elementary school. You have to move to keep the kids’ attention and there’s lots of stooping and bending involved in working with them individually.”
She simply soldiered on. “I was too busy living my life to pay attention,” she admits. “I think because things got progressively worse over several of years, I adapted. I just learned to live with the pain. Hard to believe, but being in pain started to seem normal.”
Then came a major wake-up call. In May of 2006, Tina was setting up a science test in the school cafeteria. She’d been at it for over an hour and a half and was bending over a table to set up an experiment. When she tried to straighten up, an excruciating wave of pain swept over her.” She says, “I spent the next hour on the floor praying that the pain would wear off enough for me to move.”
Tina’s primary care physician, Dr. Charlene Connors, didn’t waste any time when she heard the story. She said, “We’re going to find out about this,” and referred Tina to Dr. Clifford Everett. Dr. Everett immediately ordered an MRI. The results weren’t good. “The MRI showed my spine had separated at the L4 and L5 vertebrae by 75%. Pressure was being put on my spinal nerves. Dr. Everett explained that when I bent over, my spine would release the nerves. Then when I tried to stand straight, my spine would pinch them,” she relates.
Dr. Everett sent Tina to Dr. Paul Rubery, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in spinal procedures. She says, “At this point I was very anxious. I was so relieved when I was given an appointment within two weeks.”
“I walked in Dr. Rubery’s door with no small amount of trepidation,” admits Tina. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect and I think I was still in shock. I’d never even considered that my pain was because of a serious problem with my spine. I’d just assumed it was arthritis or muscle problems.”