In 2019, Ashleigh Tagliaferri, 39, of Las Vegas, Nevada, experienced such intense back pain that it was difficult for her to walk, stand—or even sleep. A back surgery four years prior wasn’t proving to be successful. Active all her life and a former gymnast, Tagliaferri had always been a fitness enthusiast with daily runs and group exercise classes. Therefore, she wasn’t accustomed to long bouts of inactivity when severe back pain began to sideline her as a young adult. When sitting became as painful as moving, she knew she had to make a change. While browsing online for back pain solutions, Tagliaferri happened upon a video about artificial disc replacement surgery from the Center for Disc Replacement at Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery in Dallas. Relief was just over 1,200 miles away.
“I had never even heard of an artificial disc, but I was willing to give it a try,” Tagliaferri recalls. “I remember right before I went into surgery, one of the surgeons held my hand and said, ‘Don’t worry. You have the dream team.’ I really did.”
Dallas Bound for Back Pain Relief
Tagliaferri took advantage of the Center’s popular travel medicine program. To accommodate patients who travel for care, the Center offers a complimentary screening process to review medical records and determine who may be a candidate. Designed more like a boutique hotel for patients, the Center offers a more comfortable setting than what is typically offered in a large, full-service traditional hospital. From a gourmet coffee bar in the lobby to room service meals prepared by a culinary-trained chef, the staff is driven by compassionate care and providing an exceptional experience for patients and their families from all over the world.
Tagliaferri got the necessary X-rays and MRI’s in Nevada and sent them to the Center before flying to Dallas for preliminary tests and an evaluation to determine if she was a candidate for the surgery. “When the surgeon told me I was a match, I was so happy,” Tagliaferri says. “He knew I had done my homework and said I was a perfect candidate. After that, everything fell into place.”
One month later, Tagliaferri was in Dallas and ready for surgery. “I had been so depressed from chronic pain,” she says. “Back pain changes you. I didn’t want to put all of my hope into this surgery, and the surgeons were very realistic about the risks and benefits. I traveled many miles to get this surgery, and I am so glad I did. Everything was seamless.” Today, Tagliaferri says after regular physical therapy and following doctors’ orders, she is almost “as good as new.” She says she knows she has an artificial disc in her back, but she rarely thinks about it as she continues with her daily runs and fitness classes.
Artificial Disc Replacement Center of Excellence
Artificial disc replacement is a type of arthroplasty used to treat chronic, severe back and neck pain. It is a surgical procedure in which degenerated intervertebral discs in the spinal column are replaced with artificial devices in the lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) spine. This procedure helps to stabilize the spine while maintaining a natural movement of range and motion. Maintaining the natural range of motion reduces the degeneration of adjacent discs and lowers the risk of additional disc injuries over time that may lead to additional surgeries. The artificial disc allows for extension and rotation through the device, therefore preserving the spine’s normal range of motion and flexibility.
Dallas—and the world—have access to this life-changing procedure from surgery pioneers at the Center for Disc Replacement. The Center is led by internationally recognized spine surgeons, Drs. Scott Blumenthal, Richard Guyer, Jack Zigler, and Jessica Shellock, who remain leaders in artificial disc replacement. Beginning in 2000 with the first-ever ADR surgery performed in the United States, these world-class surgeons have performed more than 3,900 artificial disc replacement procedures with 14 different types of ADR devices. They also participate in and are committed to clinical research that allows early access to the latest arthroplasty technologies. In addition to lecturing worldwide about artificial disc replacement, they have authored and published numerous articles on the subject and fellowship train other surgeons from around the world. The Center for Disc Replacement has been recognized as a center of excellence for this procedure and is well-known throughout the country and the world for its successful outcomes.
Dr. Guyer, a founder of the Center for Disc Replacement, says it has always enjoyed a large travel presence, even during the pandemic, thanks to telemedicine. “We do more artificial disc replacement surgeries than any other center in the U.S.,” he says. “In one day, I may operate on two patients who are from out of town and one from the Dallas area. Because of telemedicine, we are still able to follow up with patients no matter where they live. We can review X-rays and discuss how they are feeling, and if necessary, they can come to the office for a follow-up visit.”
Dr. Blumenthal, also a founder of the Center, says his team became interested in artificial disc replacement in its research stage decades ago and pioneered both lumbar and cervical disc replacement. “Our experience has made us a global destination for this surgery,” Dr. Blumenthal says. “There was a time when people would commonly travel to Europe for medical procedures, and today, people from across the world travel to Dallas for spine surgery. The fact that we have a center that focuses on a very specific solution for neck, lower back, and disc problems is an incredible asset to Dallas. If you have been told you need a fusion, you owe it to yourself to see if you are a candidate for artificial disc replacement.”
Artificial Disc Replacement or Spinal Fusion?
“If you have been told you need a fusion, you owe it to yourself to see if you are a candidate for artificial disc replacement.”Dr. Scott Blumenthal
The goal of artificial disc replacement is to remove a diseased degenerative disc to alleviate back or leg pain that has been resistant to conservative management. It is often recommended when conservative treatments aren’t working. By removing the bad disc and reconstructing it with a device that matches the biomechanics of the spine, pain-free movement is restored. With spinal fusion, healthy discs are having to work even harder to take up the slack for the diseased or removed disc, meaning they will wear down faster. The artificial disc allows the other discs to remain functioning as normal. Artificial disc replacement also has a faster recovery than spinal fusion, which can take up to a year to heal, meaning patients have a longer wait to return to normal activities. Most artificial disc replacement patients are back in the game in about three months.
When Ashleigh Tagliaferri describes the first moments she recalls after surgery, the word she likes to use is “stable.” Before ADR surgery, Tagliaferri says, she always had the sense that her back was unstable. Something felt like it was missing. As it turns out, what she needed was an artificial disc. “The disc is small, but its importance is huge,” she says.
To learn more about the Center for Disc Replacement and to download their guide, visit thcds.com/centerfordiscreplacement.