After a Neck Injury and a Decade of Pain, Young Woman Has Her Life Back

When 12-year-old Leah Dorfman fell headfirst from her horse, everyone thought she was lucky at first. Nothing showed up on any of the MRIs or X-rays, but Leah knew something was wrong. The pain never left. Yet she managed to function for years.

By early 2021, Leah, now in her 20s, couldn’t push the pain aside. “I was bed-ridden, and my left arm, my dominant arm, was completely immobile,” she says. “Holding a fork was tremendously difficult.”

Leah saw a physician and found that she had a herniated disc. While she and her parents were trying to figure out the right course of treatment, she had to go to an Emergency Department because of another wave of immobilizing pain. It became clear that her herniation had worsened and she needed immediate surgery.

Leah’s father wanted to make sure she was in the best hands, so he researched the leading surgeons for this type of injury—and that is how Leah and her family found Andrew C. Hecht, MD, Chief of Spine Surgery for the Mount Sinai Health System.

Given Leah’s treatment history, and the amount of pain she was enduring, Dr. Hecht recommended surgery. “Dr. Hecht was very confident in his assessment and how he would go about doing the surgery,” Leah says. “His desire to get me in to relieve me of pain as soon as possible made me feel confident in him. He said if I were his daughter, he would do exactly the same. I felt safe, genuinely cared for, and truly heard. I was in insufferable pain, and he understood there was no time to waste.”

In March 2021, Dr. Hecht performed a spinal fusion at the C5-C6 vertebrae in her neck. The surgery lasted about an hour, and Leah left the next morning.

“I had forgotten what it was like to live 100 percent pain-free,” Leah says. “From the moment I woke up, I felt completely different. I had post-surgical pain, of course, but the heavy weight, the constant discomfort and pain, wasn’t there for the first time in over a decade.”

Almost immediately after surgery, Leah started getting back the function of her dominant hand and leg. She began physical therapy to rebuild her strength, and now she can lift, grab, and pull with ease and no pain. She can finally sleep comfortably and wake up with mobility.

“I now have confidence in the movements that I haven’t been able to do for so long,” Leah says. “Dr. Hecht and his team saved me from the emotional and physical distress I was going through every day. I will be forever grateful to them for giving me my life back.”