Patient Stories

Ronald C. Childs, MD

My Story:

Sometime you hear that all surgeons want to do is "cut, cut, cut." Not so with Dr. Ronald Childs. When I felt a big, strange bump rise in my lower back more than a decade ago, he diagnosed spondylolisthesis, meaning that my spine was no longer intact and that my top half had slipped forward noticeably. Somehow I was two inches shorter than I used to be. That bump was -- yikes! -- the top of my lower half.

Instead of telling me that I needed surgery right then in my early 40s, Dr. Childs counseled me to see how long I could wait because "we only want to do this surgery once."

When I asked how I would know when it was time for surgery, he said, "you'll know." He told me that I would start to experience leg pains as the spinal nerves stretched through their now-convoluted paths.

The years went by. I checked in with Dr. Childs every so often to make sure the vertebrae were stable and to see whether he thought I could pursue various new activities, such as becoming a registered nurse. Always, he advised me to use my judgement to live my life as fully as possible -- go for it! And each time HE asked ME, "Is it time for surgery yet?"

I kept saying, "Not yet."

Then a new joy came into my life -- my husband and I fell in love with dancing. We started with a few lessons at the local dance studio and were hooked. Soon whether it was a little jazz club in New Orleans or the elegant Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo, we were on the dance floor several times a week, loving the music and the joyful physical interaction.

As the years passed I had to give up nursing -- I couldn't lean over the patients' beds dependably for any length of time -- and my balance grew worse. By 2015 the leg pains were very strong, with my left knee twisting rotationally during the night and big charley-horse cramps or lightning-bolts hitting at any time. I became increasingly dependent on my husband's steadying grip as we danced, and the first thing I did upon entering any room was look for a chair.

Finally, I began to fall. It was time for surgery.

I went to Dr. Childs and told him. He nodded and put things into motion.

What can I say about the surgical experience? Lumbar fusion is not easy. But the day of surgery went as well as anyone could ask for -- Dr. Childs had suggested that he partner with neurosurgeon Kathleen French to give me my very best chance.

Don't let anyone tell you that all surgeons are gruff. Dr. Childs has been incredibly caring every step of the way. I heard later that he came back from vacation to do my surgery when I said it needed to be done.

The greatest gift he's given me is so many years of feeling in control of my life, seeing how high I could reach and how far I could go. I'm aware that with more restrictive, pessimistic surgical advice I might have sunk into a wheelchair a long time ago, with the attitude of "no, I can't."

It's now been 5.5 months since the surgery. Unexpectedly, I get compliments and questions about whether I've lost weight -- really, it's just that I'm standing straighter and my clothes hang better. So I'm calling the lumbar fusion "cosmetic surgery that insurance pays for."

My balance is more secure now and the leg pains are virtually gone. Most days I take NO PILLS, and if I do want a little help, Tylenol does the trick. I sleep through the night. My body is pleasantly in harmony with the earth. Amazing!

I'm taking a nursing refresher course and yes, I'm already dancing again! My spins are sharper and with better balance I reliably end up where I'm supposed to be, in front of my husband. My upright posture looks so much nicer for elegant ballroom dancing. As far as swing dancing goes, we expected that the fusion would compromise my hip movements, but that is not the case at all. We just got back from New Orleans where our sultry, honky-tonk dancing style drew cheers and applause. Oh, boy, I'm living life fully! And I have Dr. Childs' patient, loving encouragement and expertise to thank.

God bless Dr. Childs!

Thanks to my care at OrthoVirginia, I can...dance again!