Thousands waiting on surgeries deemed non-essential amidst coronavirus shutdown

Posted at 4:28 PM, Apr 29, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded across the country, thousands of people were left hanging, waiting on surgery that falls into that gray area between what's considered an electives surgery and one that is considered an emergency surgery.

One of those people is Lara LaDuke, who has degenerative disc disease.

“The disc above the original surgical site has now disintegrated,” she explained.

She shared the most recent MRI of her spine, which compares a healthy disc to an unhealthy one.

“It’s pushing on my nerve,” she explained. “I have extreme nerve pain down my leg, numbness, tingling, feels like my leg is asleep all the time, sharp pain in my toes.”

Since that MRI in early April, things have gotten progressively worse.

“Like a jelly donut--if you put pressure on top of a jelly donut, the interior squishes out the side, and that’s exactly what’s happening with the disc,” she said.

Her last surgery was 12 years ago. Since then, the busy mom of three has been able to live her normal, active life, running their first 5k as a family this past fall. But now, she needs a fifth surgery, or she'll risk permanent nerve damage. The intense pain started right around the time when the country started to shut down, putting her on a pending surgery list with so many others whose conditions are urgent but not considered an emergency.

“His advice to me was if it came to the point where I could not handle it any longer, go the emergency room, contact me, we’ll see what we can do to have it done as quickly as possible,” LaDuke shared of her doctor's directive.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for OhioHealth, says everyone is wearing masks across its system of 12 hospitals. There are no visitors and the environment is extremely safe.

“The decision was made, not to attempt to catalog surgical procedures as necessary or unnecessary, but rather to characterize the features of a clinical condition and the surgery that would go with it so doctors and patients could understand broad categories of things needed to happen,” Dr. Vanderhoff said.

They're asking doctors to work with their patients to figure out which surgeries need to be done immediately and which can be safely delayed.

While the situation is changing by the minute, LaDuke is also living minute by minute, trying to get by, one day at a time until it's her turn.

“There are a lot of individuals like me who have had to just endure, and we are and we’re doing the best we can, but there’s only so long you can do this stuff,” she said. “But I’m concerned about long-term ramifications.”