Adrian Hyman - The Picture of Health After Serious Spine Surgery

From breeding St. Bernards to appraising automobiles, Adrian Hyman is a man of many talents, but it is as a professional photographer that he found his true calling. Adrian was happily self-employed when he started experiencing some disconcerting symptoms: Chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, difficulty walking, slight incontinence, and tingling sensations in both his arms. At first, Adrian suspected his symptoms were a side effect of his blood pressure medication, but despite several prescription changes, the symptoms continued to worsen until Adrian found himself unable to work.

Thinking his symptoms might be coming from his spine, his doctor ordered X-rays, a CT scan, and an MRI and shared the results with Dr. Brian Su, director of spine surgery at Marin General Hospital.

Dr. Su diagnosed Adrian with Klippel-Feil syndrome, a condition where some of the neck vertebrae are fused into one bony block. Over time, this led to abnormal alignment and instability in the rest of the bones in his neck causing severe spinal cord compression. As the compression continued to worsen, Adrian would be progressively paralyzed. Dr. Su recommended that Adrian undergo surgery to re-align his spine and take pressure off his spinal cord.  There was no guarantee surgery would alleviate Adrian’s symptoms, but it would hopefully keep them from progressing.

Dr. Su and Marin General Hospital’s exceptional spine surgery team performed Adrian’s surgery.  In order to minimize time under anesthesia and blood loss, the surgery was performed with the assistance of a second fellowship-trained spine surgeon, Dr. Robert Byers. Facilitated by a special table that rotates 180 degrees so that the surgeons can approach the spine from any direction, the complex surgery was performed in three stages:   

  1. Coming in from the back of Adrian’s neck, Dr. Su performed a laminectomy, the removal of the back part of the vertebra covering the spinal canal. This procedure enlarges the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. He then performed multiple osteotomies, involving the resection and separation of bones that had fused over time in a deformed position.
  2. Adrian was then flipped around to the front so that a multi-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion could be performed. This involved removing multiple discs and replacing them with bone graft to correct the abnormal curvature of his spine. The bone grafts were then held in place with a titanium plate and screws.
  3. Adrian was then flipped again to the back so that the re-aligned spine could be fused in its final position using two rods and several surgical screws.

Adrian was in surgery for six hours. He was in the hospital for a total of 5 days, and by day 3, he was “racing around in a walker” with the nurses urging him on! Still, recovery was a challenge: Adrian wore a hard protective collar for 8 weeks. His service dog, Brianna, never left his side, and he used her for balance when he got up and down from a seated position. Fortunately, Adrian never experienced any of the swallowing issues that can sometimes occur with major neck surgery and was soon able to eat solid food.

Nine months after the surgery, Adrian was able to get back to work. Today, he is walking normally and has no problem carrying his camera and equipment. His balance issues are gone and his range of motion is barely impacted. Because Adrian’s muscles and nerves are still healing, he must monitor his time and energy, but his recovery has been truly remarkable. The only residual symptom he has from damage from the cord compression is a slight buzzing in his fingers and neck. As far as Adrian is concerned, “Dr. Su saved my life. I was so impressed by the consistency of care, from all the nurses, the physicians, everybody I came in contact with. They were all great.” 

Thanks to his successful surgery, Adrian is once again able to roam the beautiful Sonoma landscapes. Camera in hand and clicking away, he’s the picture of health.

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