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Case Study

Charting a New Course: The path back from a spinal cord tumor

Published January 21st, 2021

Imagine that one day your whole world is thrown into chaos. You’re given a diagnosis that changes everything you thought you knew about your health and alters everything you were certain of in your life. That’s what happened to Steve.

Steve hadn’t been feeling right for a long time. He had been experiencing extreme neuropathic pain and spent most days feeling as though there was a tight band that was compressing his mid-section. He had sensations that felt like electric shocks in his lower extremities. After months undergoing tests and procedures that didn’t yield results, an MRI revealed he had a benign spinal cord tumor in his upper back. Only one in 500 people are diagnosed with this kind of medical issue each year.

Spinal cord tumors are complex and, if left untreated, can have disastrous effects on a person’s overall health. Spinal tumors can cause extreme pain, neurological issues, and in some cases, result in permanent disability.

In the space of a moment that lasted a lifetime, Steve suddenly went from a healthy man in the prime of his life, to one who had to plan each movement and decision with agonizing precision. He went from someone in control of his life to one who was controlled by a new adversary – his body.

Steve had answers about why he was in constant pain, but he didn’t know what to do. He needed help understanding his options and weighing the risks. He needed a partner to guide him along a path he wasn’t able to navigate on his own.

“Only 1 in 500 people are diagnosed with this kind of medical issue each year.”

Shortly after his diagnosis, Steve’s employer connected him to Private Health Management. He was immediately paired with a team of experts who made his health and outcomes their priority. In the following months, Steve’s Care Team sought out world-class experts capable of performing the immensely complex surgical procedure that would see him return to a normal life. Time was of the essence because the chance of reversing his worsening symptoms was growing smaller with passing time.

With any procedure there is risk. Steve’s Care Team worked with his surgeon to help him understand that his sensory function would likely be compromised. To access the tumor, they would have to go through the immensely delicate and complicated procedure of disrupting sensory fibers. Armed with this, Steve underwent surgery in New York to remove the mass in his spine.

Steve’s surgical team was successful in removing most of the mass, but, as expected, there were complications. He suffered nerve damage that left him unable to feel from the chest down, unable to walk, and in a new and different kind of constant pain.

​Faced with a new set of health challenges, Private Health found experts to oversee his rehabilitation and physical recovery. His team gave him back his independence, teaching him how to walk again and how to stand in the shower.

Once back home in North Carolina, Steve’s Private Health Care Team continued to play a part in his recovery. They researched and found respected local practitioners to provide Steve with a continuum of care to help him live within his new normal – including a primary care physician, rehab specialists, and pain management experts.

His struggles have been their struggles and his successes have been theirs.”

The insights and support that Steve received from Private Health extended beyond connecting him with the best medical talent available. Steve’s Care Team provided him with expert guidance on how to manage the neuropathic pain he was experiencing as a result from his tumor and the subsequent surgery. They offered insights into his prescriptions and how they could be balanced with other available treatments to provide him with the right mix of medication that would result in the best possible outcomes. And they gave Steve and his family the emotional support they needed to manage the unknown, giving them confidence and a sense of control when they had neither. Through their guidance, Steve and his family were able to make informed decisions that made sense for them.

Steve’s health journey is far from over, but his experience with Private Health has set him up for future progress. His Care Team created a network of support that saw him through his initial diagnosis, his surgery, and the hard work of his ongoing recovery. Through it all, Steve has been surrounded by determined advocates dedicated to providing him with the best care possible – his struggles have been their struggles and his successes have been theirs.

If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that health is precious. This philosophy drives everything we do at Private Health. We build a network of support that sees our clients through every stage of their medical journey – delivering better care and finding better health outcomes.

About the Author

Jessica Zambelli, MPA-C

Senior Director, Clinical Services & Head of Intensive Case Management

Jessica  L.  Zambelli,  PA-C, is  Senior Director  of  Clinical  Services  at  Private Health. Ms. Zambelli  is  a board-certified  Physician  Assistant and  has  more than ten years of experience in direct patient care as a PA. She has a strong clinical  background  in  internal medicine,  gastroenterology,  and  cardiology and electrophysiology.