Active Retiree is Back to Exercising and Horseback Riding after Spine Surgery

In October 2018, Charlene Fraske began to experience severe low back pain. Whenever she would bend down, push something, or turn her torso, a sharp pain would rush to the area, as if someone had dug a knife into her back and twisted it. The pain was especially bad when she sat.

For months, Charlene, a retired elementary school teacher, worked with primary care doctors, orthopedic specialists, and physical therapists to address the issue. She tried everything—physical therapy, cortisone shots, radiofrequency ablations—but the pain persisted.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t tolerate it anymore,” Charlene says. “It wasn’t just the normal arthritis, you’re getting old, you’re doing too much or you did too much, you were an athlete. Something wasn’t right.”

After a year of dead ends—and not being able to enjoy her workouts, daily hikes, and rides on her horse anymore—Charlene’s neurologist referred her to Jeremy M. Steinberger, MD, Director of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery for the Department of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Health System and Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and Orthopedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Within days, she and her husband Gary were driving from their home in the Catskills in Upstate New York down to Manhattan for a consultation with Dr. Steinberger at Mount Sinai West.

Dr. Steinberger discussed possible neurosurgical options and ordered a CT scan of her lumbar spine. The CT scan showed L5-S1 spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis, as well as Bertolotti’s syndrome, all conditions affecting the lumbar spine that can lead to pain, instability, and disability.

Charlene underwent surgery at Mount Sinai West on January 14, 2020, where Dr. Steinberger performed a L5-S1 laminectomy and fusion. She was out of bed and walking right after the surgery and was able to return home shortly thereafter, where she was prescribed in-home physical therapy, and eventually intense physical therapy. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, she continued those physical therapy sessions at home via Zoom. Now, four months after her surgery, the 59-year-old is back to working out three times a week, hiking 4 ½ miles every day, and riding her horse, doing all of it with the most energy and stamina she’s had in years.

“It’s just a new lease for me,” she says. “My husband wishes I didn’t recharge like I have, because he can’t keep up with me now!”

Charlene commends Dr. Steinberger for his thoroughness with her case and for carefully considering all of her options before proceeding with the best route for her care. “I cannot tell you how comfortable, how confident we were with Dr. Steinberger. I was in his hands and had no second thoughts, no apprehension, no anxiety,” she says. “You can tell he takes each individual patient to heart and wants what’s best for them based on their personality, their activity level. He brings it all together.”

She also recognizes Dr. Steinberger’s team involved in her care, including Administrative Assistant Frank Burgos, Regina Won, NP, and Rachael Blaire, PA, who she says helped enhance her overall experience at Mount Sinai.

“I just really connected with them,” she says. “They listen to you, they explain what they’re seeing and what they recommend from a professional standpoint, but they also listen to you as a patient. Which is huge.

“It was frustrating,” she adds, referring to the unknowns she grappled with before being referred to Dr. Steinberger. “It was just very emotionally trying because I’m not just one to sit and not do, but it limited me. I’m like a new person—I’m back now.”