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Mother-of-Two Spared Life of Paralysis Thanks to Intervention by Danbury Hospital Surgeons

Friday, January 16, 2009 - Danbury, CT

A summertime gathering turned tragic for Trudy Tuffy, who faced a lifetime of paralysis after sustaining a spinal cord injury when she fell out of a hammock in a freak accident.

Yet just months later, the Sandy Hook resident boasts a near complete neurological recovery following what she calls a “miraculous” recovery thanks to the rapid and successful interventions of orthopedic spine surgeons David Bomback, MD, and his colleague, David Kramer, MD, co-director of The Spine Center at Danbury Hospital.

“It was amazing,” said Tuffy, referring to the quick sequence of events that had her in the operating room within three hours after injuring her spinal cord. “I feel fortunate to be living in a region where we have access to the best medical treatment you can find,” said the mother-of-two, who was back to work fulltime at Scholastic, Inc., four months after the accident. “Danbury Hospital is a wonderful community resource.”

Tuffy will share her experiences at a medical symposium on February 6 at Danbury Hospital featuring researchers from the world renowned Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The Spine Center at Danbury Hospital, working in conjunction with the Miami Project in Florida, have coordinated this symposium during which Barth A. Green, MD, co-founder and chairman of the Miami Project, and W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., its scientific director, will discuss ground-breaking research that is providing new hope to others like Ms. Tuffy with spinal cord injuries. More than 300 people from Connecticut’s medical and rehabilitation communities are expected to attend.

“Ms. Tuffy’s case demonstrates the high level of expertise and advanced spine treatment protocols available at our spine center,” noted Kramer. As a regional medical facility and university teaching hospital, Danbury Hospital has earned a reputation for handling complex spine cases, including revision surgery, scoliosis correction and treatment of spinal cord injuries.

Tuffy never imagined the backyard gathering that she was hosting would end tragically when she and a friend toppled over as they both jumped onto a hammock. The friend landed safely, but Tuffy fell on her neck. “I didn’t realize the severity of my injury, even though I had no sensation or movement,” she said. “I thought I just had a pinched nerve or something.”

Fortunately, friends immediately called 911. The ambulance crew stabilized Tuffy and brought her to the Emergency Department at Danbury Hospital, where a computed tomography (CT) scan of the neck was immediately obtained and the concerning results were rapidly communicated to Bomback. The scan revealed that Tuffy had dislocated her spinal column between the C5 and C6 vertebrae.

“Trudy was paralyzed from the neck down when she arrived at the hospital,” said Bomback. “The prognosis was poor. You rarely see a recovery in cases where the patient is completely paralyzed throughout both arms and legs.”

But unlike other cases, Tuffy had a few factors working in her favor. “The key to Trudy’s success was the quick responsiveness of everyone involved—from the emergency medical technicians in the field who protected her from further injury to the Emergency Department staff who recognized the need to quickly conduct imaging studies to the surgical team that was ready to operate within hours of the accident,” said Kramer. “Timing and preparedness were on her side.”

Knowing that time was of the essence, Bomback decided to forgo additional tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in order to get Tuffy to the operating room as quickly as possible to begin repairing the primary injury to the spinal cord. As part of the treatment plan, Tuffy received intravenous steroids, an intervention thought to reduce any secondary injuries caused by the inflammation that occurs as a result of the spinal compression.

“Our primary goal with this surgery was to relieve the pressure on her spinal cord by realigning the dislocated vertebrae,” explained Bomback. Once Bomback and Kramer successfully achieved an emergent closed reduction of Tuffy’s cervical dislocation, a posterior cervical fusion was performed to stabilize the neck and prevent further injury. The first indication that the surgical intervention had worked came in the middle of the night when Tuffy was able to wiggle her toe. “That was a good sign,” said Bomback.

Kramer performed a second surgery a few days later once Tuffy was medically stable and had shown signs of neurological recovery. “We felt that an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion would optimize her recovery by maximizing the decompression of her spinal cord and further stabilizing her neck,” he said.

A week later, Tuffy left Danbury Hospital for six weeks of intensive rehabilitation at Gaylord Hospital and now visits the facility twice a week for outpatient services. Her progress has amazed everyone. “I credit my recovery to the techniques that Dr. Bomback and Dr. Kramer used early on to put me back together so quickly.” She’s also grateful to the rehabilitation team at Gaylord Hospital. “The intensive physical therapy that I received was also exceptional. I’m pretty much back to normal now in that there isn’t anything I can’t do,” she said. “It just takes me a bit longer.”

Tuffy’s surgeons at Danbury Hospital believe a positive attitude and strong family ties played an important role in her overall recovery, as well. Tuffy agreed. “My husband has been incredibly supportive throughout this whole ordeal. I was completely overwhelmed by all the support I received from my family and friends,” she said. The experience was also difficult for her two sons, ages 12 and 9. “But they, too, were troopers and are thrilled that I’ve recovered and am back home,” she said. “I have much to be thankful for.”

About Danbury Hospital

Danbury Hospital is a 371-bed regional medical center and university teaching hospital associated with New York Medical College, the Yale University School of Medicine, the Connecticut School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. The hospital provides centers of excellence in cardiovascular services, cancer, weight loss surgery, orthopedics, digestive disorders and radiology. It also offers specialized programs for sleep disorders and asthma management. Medical staff members are board certified in their specialties.

Danbury Hospital is ranked in the top 5 percent of hospitals in the country for overall clinical performance by HealthGrades®, a leading independent health care rating organization. It is the only health care facility in Connecticut ranked among the top 5 percent of hospitals nationwide for overall clinical performance four years in a row. In the area of orthopedics, Danbury Hospital ranks in the top 5 percent in Connecticut for joint replacement by HealthGrades.