Pioneering back surgery for shopkepper

AN OSTEOPOROSIS sufferer has told how she has “got her life back” after undergoing a pioneering eight-hour operation.

Laurence Cawley

AN OSTEOPOROSIS sufferer has told how she has “got her life back” after undergoing a pioneering eight-hour operation.

Barbara Merritt's spine was snapped in two places in the surgery and then reset using titanium rods and bolts.

And now the 59-year-old former shopkeeper, who lives in Wickhambrook, near Bury St Edmunds, is facing a brighter future.

Two days after the operation, a procedure carried out on only a tiny number of patients, she was able to walk. And today, that one-time dream of doing some gardening has become a regular pastime and pleasure.

“I've got a life now,” she said. “It is simply amazing. I was very lucky to have this done and I never really expected it could happen.”

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Mrs Merritt used to run the shop and post office in Wickhambrook with her husband Kerry but the couple decided to sell up because the work was becoming too painful for Mrs Merritt.

“My bottom ribs were inside my hips and whenever I moved my bottom ribs were digging into my hips. It was very uncomfortable and just bending down at the counter was very painful,” she said. “And once I leant down I could not stand up again. It was terrible.”

Mrs Merritt's family has a history of osteoporosis. She watched her mother suffer with the condition and felt helpless as her mother deteriorated with a twisted spine before her death two years ago.

“I had a vision of this being what I had to look forward to. I just wish they could have done this for my mother.”

Her surgery, carried out at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital by leading spinal consultant Am Rai, came about during a visit to her doctor at the BMI Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

She had asked her doctor whether anything could be done for her. He asked her whether she would like him to find out more about a rare treatment which might be available. The next thing she knew, there was an appointment card from Mr Rai.

“When we were told about breaking the spine my husband and I looked at each other and our jaws dropped. I asked what the risks were and he seemed slightly evasive. I asked what the percentage chances of recovery were. Mr Rai said he could not give percentages because he had only done a few.”

Knowing Mr Rai was one of the world's leading spinal experts, Mrs Merritt put her fears and anxiety to one side and agreed to give surgery a try.

She said: “I have a good life now and I have so much to look forward to. Everybody I pass in the street keeps telling me how well I'm looking.

“I still think twice before I lift anything heavy because I don't want to do any damage. I'm showing my back some respect,” Mrs Merritt said.

Asked whether she would recommend the surgery, Mrs Merritt said: “Mr Rai has done a brilliant piece of work. It is amazing. I've been given my life back.”

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