Spine Surgery Gives Relief to a Patient After Years of Misdiagnoses and Severe Back Pain

Maria Passannante-Derr, 72, first started experiencing leg and lower back pain in 2006. Her primary care physician ordered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of her spine, which showed that she had some signs of degenerative disc disease, where the cushioning of the spine begins to wear away.

By 2010, Maria’s condition started to degenerate severely, and another MRI revealed that she had developed spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis and disc herniations. She tried to manage these conditions with exercise, stretching, massage, acupuncture, and pain medication. However, by 2021 the pain had become debilitating.

Maria’s journey to health finally led to empathetic care at The Mount Sinai Hospital from Alexis Colvin, MD, Professor of Orthopedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and James D. Lin, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Orthopedics.

“In October 2021, I stopped exercising because the pain was so severe,” Maria says. “I could not stand for any length of time without bending my legs for comfort. I eventually walked in a bent-over position. The pain became so severe that I could not walk more than one to two city blocks without crying because of the intense pain in my legs and back.”

As a very active person with an extensive exercise regime, Maria initially thought that the pain stemmed from a torn tendon in her left hamstring. Her self-diagnosis was in part correct: an MRI revealed that she indeed torn her hamstring tendon. Based on the X-ray, three separate surgeons agreed to carry out surgery on her tendon; one even suggested a hip replacement. However, none of these consultations addressed the possibility that her spine condition was a cause of the pain. 

In June 2022, Maria met with Dr. Colvin, a national leader in treating sports-related injuries, who took the time to thoroughly review Maria’s records and determine that the pain was actually a result of her spine condition. An MRI confirmed that areas of her lower spine were severely damaged and causing nerve impingement. “Dr. Colvin spoke to James Lin, a Mount Sinai spine surgeon, about my condition,” Maria says.

Dr. Lin told Maria she would require a laminectomy and a spinal fusion to the lumbar area of her back. This involved freeing up the nerves in her spinal canal that were severely compressed, as well as inserting titanium screws and rods to stabilize the vertebrae that were unstable and malaligned. “I was very concerned, as this was the first major surgery I ever had in my life,” Maria says.

“During several appointments with Dr. Lin, he exhibited a masterful scholarly grasp of his field of medicine and was kind and empathetic,” Maria says. “He was genuinely concerned that I understand my condition and this operation. He told me to expect immediate relief from the nerve impingement.  After so many years of pain, this was too good to be true!”

The surgery took place in August 2022 at The Mount Sinai Hospital.

“To my amazement, the day after my surgery, I stood up with assistance, straight as an arrow and with minimal back pain, mostly soreness, stiffness and extremely exhausted. I did not require opioids, only Tylenol,” Maria says.

By the third week after the operation, Maria was able to walk outside—first with a walker and then with a cane—around the block and then around a nearby park. She continues to have follow-up appointments with Dr. Lin every few months.

“This operation has dramatically changed my quality of life and my mental well-being, all for the better. I go to the gym to strengthen my arms and legs and I walk, walk, and walk for my cardio. I am so grateful to Dr. Lin that I can walk without pain,” Maria says. “I would recommend Dr. James Lin to anyone who seeks a talented, experienced spine surgeon of unparalleled skills. Furthermore, he is a kind and caring physician who will impart to his patient his superior knowledge of complex spine surgery, options, and realistic outcomes, in a calm and reassuring manner.”