From pain to prosperity: How spine surgery changed Rick's life

Patient Story
Close up doctor pointing to the spine on a skeleton model

At 68 years old, Rick Odorisio knew his body wouldn’t be the same as in his 30s or 40s. But he didn’t expect to be in extreme pain all day, every day.

Rick had all but resigned to the back pain that made it nearly impossible to go about his daily life. “I couldn't walk or stand for any length of time. Walking a block was a challenge, standing for more than a minute or two,” he recalls. “I was always looking to sit down because that would relieve the pain.”

As a manager of multiple hotel locations, it was Rick’s job to visit his properties. “I always walk the property and inspect rooms,” he explains. “I used to go in the room, and the first thing I would do was sit down. My general managers knew that. They would say, ‘Hey, here's a seat.’”

He also couldn’t stand for the length of his son’s lacrosse games. While other parents were pacing the fields or standing to cheer, Rick would be searching for the nearest chair and a little relief.

To ease his back pain, Rick tried a range of treatments — physical therapy, acupuncture, epidural shots. “It provided some relief temporarily,” he says. “As time went on, that duration became shorter and shorter.”

According to Michael Murray, MD, orthopaedic spine surgeon at Main Line Health, this is common. “Initially, patients might get some relief. But the problem with injections is that you get this shortening interval of relief as time goes on,” he explains.

This shortening interval of relief and persistent pain is what eventually led Rick to see Dr. Murray about spine surgery — a decision he considers one of the most important he’s made to this day.

Finding a less invasive approach to spine surgery

Rick did not take the idea of spine surgery lightly. He always knew it was an option, as his brother had a similar surgery about five years before him. But he also knew the recovery could be a lot.

“I was basing my experience on my brother’s surgery,” he explains. “His recovery time was very long. He couldn't drive for five weeks. He needed a cane to walk around. So I'm like, boy, let me prepare for this accordingly.”

But the surgery Rick was considering was not the same as his brother’s. While his brother’s surgeons used a traditional surgical approach, Rick was considering a procedure called lateral lumbar interbody fusion (or LLIF).

LLIF is a type of spinal fusion, which is used to correct problems in the spine. It’s basically a welding process, where surgeons fuse together problematic vertebrae (the small bones in the spine) into one solid bone.

Normally, there’s a disk in between the vertebrae, keeping the bones separate. “What happened with Rick is the bones were almost on top of each other. The problem is, there are nerves that come out of the side. The nerves get compressed when the bones are together,” explains Dr. Murray. This is what was causing Rick’s pain.

During an LLIF, surgeons place a spacer between the two vertebrae. “By putting a spacer in the place of a collapsed disc, it creates space for the nerves to travel through,” says Dr. Murray. This takes the pressure off the nerves, helps the bones heal and makes the fusion occur successfully.

According to Dr. Murray, during a spinal fusion, you’re essentially putting the bones back together in their proper location.

During Rick’s brother’s surgery, surgeons approached the spine from the back. In Rick’s case, Dr. Murray suggested Rick undergo LLIF, which approaches the spine from the side. This avoids needing to take the muscles off the spine, leading to quicker recovery times.

A side approach also avoids exposing the spinal nerves. “When we come in from the side, I don't have to expose the nerves, because I've already taken the pressure off of the nerves by putting the spacer in,” he explains.

By not exposing the spinal nerves, Dr. Murray removes a number of risks. “I can't cause a spinal fluid leak. I can't create scar tissue around the spinal nerves. These are all negative aspects of traditional surgery,” he explains.

The less invasive approach of LLIF was appealing to Rick, as it meant getting back to his daily activities more quickly. With Dr. Murray’s guidance, Rick decided to move forward with spine surgery.

Rick’s spinal fusion

In February 2023, Rick walked into Main Line Health for surgery to address the extreme pain he’d been living with for a decade.

Rick knew what to expect on surgery day. He’d asked dozens of questions and even watched a video of the procedure online. But surgery day can come with a new set of questions and concerns — all of which Dr. Murray quickly addressed.

“Dr. Murray took a lot of time to explain the procedure and address my questions. I didn't feel rushed. It was just good bedside manner,” Rick explains.

As for Rick’s pain, it was gone almost immediately after the procedure. “I had a little stiffness, but the pain I had before was gone. The numbness was gone,” he explains. “It was pretty immediate relief.”

Rick was walking the same day of his surgery. He couldn’t drive for about a week, but he was moving and using the stairs. “I was surprised I didn't need a cane like my brother,” he recalls.

Dr. Murray’s report of the surgery is similarly positive, but he says his experience is less important than how Rick feels. “At the end of the day, it's his perception that matters,” he says. “He was happy with the result. In my mind, that makes it a successful surgery.”

The road to recovery — and a new take on life

Rick may have been walking the same day of the surgery, but he still had some healing to do. At the recommendation of Dr. Murray, Rick took part in physical therapy to support his recovery.

“I have two options when I see someone after surgery. I can say, ’Just go ahead and ramp things up as you see fit.’ But that's vague. People don't know what to do,” he explains. “So I usually send people to therapy so they can check in with a therapist every week or a couple times a week. The therapist knows what they're doing, and the patients have a professional guiding their progression of activity.”

As of December 2023, Rick has continued to reap the benefits of his spine surgery. He goes to the gym and uses the treadmill. He watches his son play lacrosse, and he’s able to stand and support his son throughout the entire game.

At work, he tours his properties without needing to sit down in each room. Recently, he went out to dinner with colleagues, who asked if he needed a ride to the restaurant — an offer he was able to politely decline in favor of walking.

Rick is deeply appreciative of his spine surgery and how it’s opened up new opportunities for him. Not only is he living without pain, but he’s also able to thrive in his career, support his family and do what he loves each day. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Rick says. “It’s changed my life.”

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Michael Murray, MD
Learn more about spine care at Main Line Health
When and why you need a second opinion for spine surgery