Meredith’s Michigan Answer: Getting Back to Her Greatest Passion.

Imagine being 200 feet underwater on a shipwreck that very few people have seen. Now, picture yourself weaving in and out of a centuries-old shipwreck with the pressure of a Michigan Great Lake upon you. For 53-year-old Meredith Hoag, these adventures were not just real, but a source of pure joy. 

Meredith

“Scuba diving and technical diving are favorite pastimes of mine,” says Meredith. “Exploring deep underwater is not only really fun, but it allows me to see wooden schooners from the 1800s as well as artifacts from a long time ago and feel like I’m part of history.” 

But over the last decade or so, Meredith began experiencing bone loss in her spine. To compound matters, she was involved in an unusual accident seven years ago that injured her back and greatly impacted taking part in her favorite hobby. 

“I was on a walk with a friend as someone on a bike had two dogs that were attached to each other by a leash who were running towards us. As I tried to jump the line, the leash clotheslined me, and I took a bad fall right on my back,” remembers Meredith.

A bad fall was just the start. Landing on pavement caused Meredith to herniate one of her discs, resulting in immediate pain and what would lead to further and faster bone degeneration. 

In the months following the incident, the pain did not subside. Meredith wasn’t able to sleep, and when she did it wasn’t long before she would wake up with pulsating pain. After trying medication and core strengthening, she realized she would need help from an orthopaedic expert. And she knew just where to turn. 

I get to work alongside some really amazing doctors and specialists, I didn’t have to look far to find great care.

“Since I work in the blood bank at Michigan Medicine, I get to work alongside some really amazing doctors and specialists,” says Meredith. “I didn’t have to look far to find great care.” 

Meredith was connected with Rakesh Patel, M.D., Orthopaedic Surgeon and Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Michigan Medicine. After looking at scans of her spine, Dr. Patel knew exactly what the underlying condition was. 

“Meredith had both a herniated and degenerated disc on her L5 S1 vertebrates. Basically, she had bone rubbing on bone, which caused pain and explained why she was having difficulty functionally at work and in her personal life,” explains Dr. Patel. 

The solution? Dr. Patel suggested anterior lumbar interbody fusion, a procedure where he would remove Meredith’s degenerated disc by inserting surgical tools not through her back, but through her abdomen.  Outcomes are positive for correctly indicated patients when performed by surgeons with expertise in this surgical technique.

“While this approach seems counterintuitive to most people, it turns out it’s actually the best approach for many patients,” says Dr. Patel. “Going through the front of the patient means they experience less blood loss, less risk of complications since we don’t have to cut the muscles in the back, and a faster recovery.” 

Meredith was hoping Dr. Patel could provide the same success for her. 

“Obviously no one wants to have surgery, but I was confident Dr. Patel could get me back to normal. I could sense right away he was the right doctor for me,” says Meredith. 

I felt an overall improvement, and the severe back pain I had been having was instantly gone.

In September of 2018, Meredith underwent her surgery. Entering through her abdomen and then gently moving her internal organs to the side allowed Dr. Patel and his team to repair the bone-on-bone degeneration. 

While the procedure required an overnight stay in the hospital, by the next morning Meredith was already feeling much better.

“I felt an overall improvement, and the severe back pain I had been having was instantly gone,” remembers Meredith.

Less than six weeks later, she was 100% pain free, and at the six-month mark was back to diving. 

“I weigh 135 pounds, and the oxygen tanks I wear when deeper diving are 95 pounds,” tells Meredith. “I’m back to moving them, going deep underwater and doing what I love. I can’t thank Dr. Patel and everyone at Michigan Medicine enough for their help.”

For Dr. Patel, it’s a privilege to see patients like Meredith thrive. 

“It’s very rewarding to see patients get back to doing what they love,” reflects Dr. Patel. “Meredith recently sent me a photo of her underwater during a dive and she was holding up a photo thanking me. It’s moments like that which help me to really love my profession.” 

Meredith demonstrates her technique for us at the University of Michigan Donald B. Canham Natatorium.