New Zealand Nurse Avoids Spinal Fusion with German Spine Specialists - SkyGen

New Zealand Nurse Avoids Spinal Fusion with German Spine Specialists

Robyn is a lovely 51 year old woman based in Port Nelson, New Zealand. She contacted SkyGen in June 2015 looking for a third opinion regarding her debilitating spinal condition. As an experienced medical professional (ICU Nurse) she had previously sought out the medical opinion of two of New Zealand’s top spinal surgeons, who both recommended her for a spinal fusion.

Having researched the likelihood of reduced mobility and future neighboring disc disease associated with spinal fusion, she wanted to be assessed by SkyGen’s partnered German Spine Specialists for motion-preserving spinal surgery. She was accepted as a good candidate for Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgery, and less than three weeks later she had departed for Dusseldorf (Germany), for her July 28 surgery with Dr. Bierstedt at the ONZ Centre.

Robyn was walking around the hospital ward only one day after surgery, and ONZ International Patient Coordinator Malte Petersen caught up with Robyn 10 days later to hear more about her experience.


Scroll to the bottom of the page to see Robyn riding her horse 12 weeks after her spine surgery in Germany

Malte (ONZ Germany): I’m sitting her with Robyn Smith from New Zealand, and she is recovering post-surgery from artificial disc replacement. Robyn how did you discover the ONZ and why did you decide to go to Germany for your surgery?

Robyn: Well I was going to have a fusion in Auckland with a very good surgeon, and I was all signed up, it was all paid for by insurance,but something in my brain kept saying ‘I really really really don’t want a fusion. I had heard lots of negative stories about people that had had fusions, so I went searching on the internet and I found a company called SkyGen which is an Australian company, and they put me on to the ONZ Clinic and then I did my own research. I checked with my doctor and somebody else had done an orthopaedic residency in Germany and then I actually went online and looked at research papers about fusions and disc replacement. I’m a nurse and I really want to know what the data says, and I was so against a fusion that I was willing to risk it and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.

Malte: I understand you’re a medical professional. When you came here, how was your relationship with your surgeon, how was it all organised and how did you experience the surgery itself?

Robyn: Well I first met Dr. Illerhaus. Dr. Bierstedt was my surgeon but he was away. Anyway I met Dr. Illerhaus and in truth he actually explained my MRI in more detail than my New Zealand doctor or consultant had done, and so I actually learned more in that. Before I was kind of fumbling around myself looking at the MRI as a nurse trying to figure it out, and then the operation went very very smoothly and post-op went very smoothly. Yeah there was a few ups and downs but that’s normal for surgical recovery. Then we moved to the rehab, to MEDICOS, and I think that’s been an essential part of the whole program. I mean, I am pain free!

Malte: That’s an incredible story. You’ve had a spine surgery and now you are 10-Days post-op, so how do you feel now compared to the surgery? What is your outlook for the future and how confident are you that this was your best option?

Robyn: I feel very good post-op. I had a disc that was protruding 20 millimeters into my sciatic nerve and I had almost no disc between the two facets of the vertebra so every time I stood up it was very painful. I ride horses competitively so my concern was that after my disc implant I wouldn’t be able to jump. I do show jumping and other quite hard riding. They’ve assured me that I’ll be allowed to ride in 3 months but I will withhold competitive sports until at least 6 months post-op. I will have to see and let you know. I have full confidence and I’m very hopeful. If I need to tone down my show jumping a little bit, well that okay I can manage, but my back is amazing.

Malte: Do you know anyone who has had a fusion and would you be able to compare yourself to them?

Robyn: I do. I actually have a friend who I’m going to recommend this program to. She had a fusion admittedly 20 years ago, but she is about 55 or 56. From what I could see from the research, if I fused the joint then the next one along was likely to go. The statistics for me were about 90 percent chance that I was going to have to have another fusion, and my friend is looking at that now so I will be recommending this to her.

Malte: So this is Robyn Smyth again from New Zealand, she is on her exercise program here with the athletic trainer Ben from MEDICOS. Are your trainers here taking good care of you?

Robyn: Yes, very well. He even printed a map out for us so we can go and be tourists in Dusseldorf.

Malte: So you are having training with him during your rehab and then after your rehab?

Robyn: After my rehab I will just do my own program at home.

Malte: So what kind of program are you doing here at Rehab?

Robyn: Well I most like to be busing the treadmill but then Ben makes me do all of these other exercises that are “really good for my core” but then I get a bit bored.

Malte: How many days of rehab have you done?

Robyn: I think this might be day 6, we had 2 extra days just because of our plan.

Malte: Thank you very much.

Twelve weeks after her Surgery, Robyn sent us the following update on her recovery, along with footage of her riding her horse again

Robyn: I rode again today by myself this time in the forest for about 1.5 hours in the saddle. The only adjustment I think I might made is to use a sheepskin in my saddle just because there feels like a tiny bit of pressure. Mostly it’s just me feeling nervous as the lumbar sacral replacement disc is so close to my jumping saddle which isn’t that soft – I’m not riding as hard as I used to. I am taking it easy for me which means not a lot of deep sitting int he saddle and hard legs on at a canter. It’s only my second day back riding.

This morning I also did 35 minutes fast walking on the treatmill with 12-20% incline and then also include planking in my routine. I am up to 1 minute planking and 30 sec on each side plank. This is very tough for me. When I started three weeks ago I could only do 10 seconds each plank.

I am totally off anti-inflammatory and pain meds resulting from the surgery.

Gardening is a part of most days on my farm. As well as riding and exercising today I have moved the lawn on our ride on mover. This was hard to do when I first got back home. I would need support behind me on the seat as I really am too short for the mover and have to sit up very straight to reach the pedals!

Thank you so much for everything. This was the best decision I could have made. I am now supporting other patients who are considering having this surgery.

Seven months after her surgery, Robyn sent us through the following update of her progress

Robyn: Just to let you know I am doing really well at 7 months post ADR. I have bought an additional horse about 3 weeks ago. I have started back jumping and am starting to prepare for the coming Hunt Season. I only get significant pain after about 3 hours in the saddle or really tough dressage lessons. Last week I went on a big horse trek which included five days riding in the high country of New Zealand to the most remote station in New Zealand.

Last night someone was asking me if I am fixed. I can categorically say yes.

Once again If there is ever anyone who needs to speak with me regarding the success of the operation. I am always happy to speak with them.

Kind Regards,

ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! July 2016 marks 12 Months since Robin’s Artificial Disc Replacement in Germany

Robyn: This weekend was the celebration of one year since my operation. It was the most amazing day. Jumping spars and hunting with a field of 77 riders. My back is amazing. I’ve included two pictures (below) from yesterday.

One year later I am so thankful I decided not to have a fusion and went to Germany for my spinal disc replacement. I am back riding almost as well as before I injured my back.

Thanks Robyn (just giving you an update)

Robin riding her horse after traveling to Germany to avoid spinal fusion.

One year anniversary since Robins Artificial Disc Replacement in Germany

Canadian patient Terry Friesen also had his surgery performed by Dr. Bernd Illerhaus of the ONZ Centre (Germany) just two days after Robyn’s surgery. He had a two-level Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgery at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 Level. This is what he had to say about his experience.


Click here for Frequently Asked Questions for German spinal surgery patients.

*Please read: Although the information provided on this page may describe a particular patient experience and/or outcome, readers must understand that each patient presents with a unique medical history and may be recommended a different treatment/surgery by their surgeon to that described above. Individual results may vary between surgery centre/hospital, surgeon, surgery type and patient. Although SkyGen agrees to share all updates from patients at their request, SkyGen does not endorse any physical activities attempted by patients following surgery which do not follow the explicit instructions provided by their surgeon. SkyGen encourages all patients to discuss the risks of such activities with medical professionals before attempting these themselves.

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This content is copyright and property of SkyGen Spinal & Orthopaedic. It was written to educate our patients in making informed decisions regarding their own healthcare. SkyGen is Australia's largest international collaboration between world class regenerative medicine clinics and orthopaedic hospitals.