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Success Stories From the Spine Center

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No More Pain in the Neck
Elle Aviv headshotElle Aviv was a was a successful entrepreneur and graduate student who enjoyed an energetic and active life, until she developed an acute pain in her neck that wouldn't go away. Dr. Elowitz helped provide a solution through minimally invasive surgery. Read Elle's story


Navigating Back to Normal Life
Kathy Zaccaria and her husband at Bruce Springsteen concert 10 days after surgeryKathy Zaccaria was afraid of invasive surgery to repair her spine, but Dr. Härtl was able to use an advanced navigation system to perform the procedure. This minimally invasive option had her back on her feet in no time (and at a Bruce Springsteen concert just 10 days after surgery). Read Kathy's story

"I Felt Like a Cripple, and I Couldn't Accept That"
Al Tosto was turning 65 and thought this was what his old age would be. He walked with a cane, couldn’t swim or ride a bike, could barely walk up the path over a dune at his beloved Long Beach Island. But that was before he came to the Weill Cornell Medicine Center for Comprehensive Spine Care. Read Al's story and watch his video

Health Beat: Tag team takes on tricky back trouble
(From WFMZ 69News, Allentown, Pennsylvania)

Navigating Away From Back Pain: Denise Bruist
(as seen on WABC's "Medical Marvels"):

Danny JacobsYou Don't Play at Boxing: Danny Jacobs
With a malignant tumor poised to crush his spine, Danny Jacobs thought he'd never walk again, let alone box. Dr. Härtl got him back on his feet, and back into the ring. In August 2014, Danny Jacobs became the middleweight champion of the world. Watch the video.


Gary Felberbaum hiking in New Mexico"A Walking Time Bomb," Now Back on Track
Gary Felberbaum's doctor told him he was one fall away from paralysis, but Dr. Ali Baaj was able to relieve Gary's pain and get him out of danger. A few months after the surgery, Gary and his wife were hiking and climbing in New Mexico. “Dr. Baaj gave me the ability to live again,” says Gary. “I could barely walk upstairs before surgery, let alone do a vertical climb.”  Read Gary's story.

Back to My AdventuresBack to My Adventures 
This active 45-year-old businesswoman was sidelined by a cervical disc problem, but not for long. After minimally invasive surgery with Dr. Härtl she zipped right back to her old active life.


Sara Kearns in AfricaReturn to Africa: Sara Kearns
Sara loved her job leading travelers on safari, but her crippling back pain threatened to put an end to it. On one trip she needed a wheelchair to get through the airport! That was before she met Dr. Härtl. Read her story.

Stefano KaslowskiBack in Action: Stefano Kaslowski
When he was diagnosed with a spine tumor, this trekker thought his climbing days were over. But just weeks after minimally invasive surgery at the Spine Center, he made it to the top of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. Read his story


Letters from Our Patients
From time to time we receive letters from patients letting us know how they're doing. We very much appreciate hearing from all our patients and are gratified to know that our efforts results in excellent outcomes. Here are a few of our favorites:

Patient: Antoinette
Diagnosis: Spine tumor

For seven months I suffered terrible back and leg pain. I could not walk during the day. I could not sleep at night. I was not responding to any suggested treatment. Fortunately my doctor knew of Dr. Roger Härtl and he recommended I see him.

In one diagnostic visit he was able to ascertain the issues and prescribe corrective surgery. The surgery went without problems.  I am well on my way to a pain-free recovery.  Because of Dr. Härtl's skill and his commitment to my wellbeing, along with the Weill Cornell Physicians surgical team and the nurses at New York-Presbyterian, I know what is meant when they say, "How can we help you?"  Thanks to Dr. Härtl I am on a path to a pain-free life.


Patient: Michael
Diagnosis: Spinal Stenosis

I am pleased to share my experiences on the spinal surgery by Dr. Roger Härtl at Weill Cornell. It is just over two months since the operation and it seems to be an outstanding success.

When I was first diagnosed with spinal stenosis eight years ago all doctors gave me one piece of advice: Do NOT have back surgery. It must only be a last resort. So in the interim I tried everything for relief, from acupuncture to P.T. to spinal injections to chiropractics. When it became clear that the stenosis was becoming more acute and preventing me from having a normal life I went to my G.P., Dr. Richard Cohen. He advised me to consult with Dr. Roger Härtl. Luckily while I was wasting years trying to treat the symptoms of stenosis a minimally invasive surgical process was developed — and I was told it was just right for my type of stenosis.

The operation took place on a Monday morning and I was home by Tuesday morning. The second and third lumbar bones were the object of the process. My recovery was all but painless except for the first few days (managed with Tylenol). Over the weeks I have found that the operation has done wonders for my mobility, increasing with each day. Where I was once able only to walk 2 or 3 city blocks before feeling the need to stop to rest, I am now able to walk many, many blocks — in fact I’ve not yet reached a point of needing to rest. I can walk about museums, stores, and parks, stand in one spot for long periods with no ill effects. The numbness and tingling that once warned me that my legs were about to freeze has disappeared. In a nutshell: the surgery has been life-changing.

I am about to start the program of physical therapy and I anticipate that the activity will only enhance my ability to move about, and strengthen the muscles.

Dr. Härtl has warned that the third and fourth lumbar bones, which have also been affected but less so than those treated, may one day need the same attention. If so, I would not hesitate to have the surgery again.


Patient: Iris
Age: 42
Diagnosis: Degenerative Disc Disease

"I just wanted to write and say THANK YOU. I have been suffering with lower back pain for years and on Feb. 1 Dr. Eric Elowitz changed my life. He performed a minimally invasive spinal fusion and I now have my life back. I am only 41 years old and I was at the point where I couldn't make it through a whole night at work or even take a walk with my husband. It is only two weeks later and I actually ran across the intersection on my way to Dr. Elowitz's office for my follow-up.

It doesn't stop there. I have never in my life been treated as well as I have by every single employee that I came into contact with, from my office visits with Dr. Elowitz to the guards at the front door when we walked into the Medical Center. (I refer to your facility as a Medical Center because it is like no other Hospital that I have ever been in.) I do not have the words to thank your staff. The pre-op and post-op staff did everything to calm my fears and comfort my pain.

The nurses and staff on Baker 15 not only made me feel better but welcomed my husband and son with open arms, even offering to get my husband a cot so he could stay the night. When he declined he had no problem returning at 4 a.m. to be by my side.

I could probably go on and on but I just want to say you have a staff and facility that you can be very proud of. Dr. Elowitz is a miracle worker and once again, I must say thank you to him and you for changing my life."



Patient: Geri
Age: 49
Diagnosis: Low Back Pain

"I had been in daily back pain for over three years and thought I would never have relief. I couldn't even sneeze without screaming. I researched the different options for my back surgery and discussed them with my doctor. In researching the best surgeons in New York, I found Dr. Roger Härtl. From my first visit, he made me feel safe and hopeful and I wasn't disappointed. I recovered quickly from the fusion, with 75% of my back pain gone by the time I left the hospital a couple of days after the surgery. The remaining 25% left over the following three weeks. Today I am pain free, able to exercise again, and my quality of life is back. Each day I celebrate my decision of going to Dr. Härtl and putting my back in his genius hands."


Patient: Harold
Age: 62
Diagnosis: Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

"For several years I suffered from severe leg pain when standing or walking for more than 20 or 30 minutes. The pain subsided almost immediately after sitting down. In April 2007, my internist referred me to a neurologist at Weill Cornell who diagnosed lumbar spinal stenosis, which was confirmed through an MRI. After two months of physical therapy and medication, my symptoms had not improved. I was referred to the Chief of Spinal Surgery at Weill Cornell, Roger Härtl, MD. Dr. Härtl reviewed my records and indicated that I was a good candidate for surgery.

Dr. Härtl said that in general, a laminectomy procedure is especially effective in alleviating the leg symptoms associated with lumbar spinal stenosis, with about 70 to 80 percent of patients reporting significant improvement in their function (ability to perform normal daily activities) and markedly reduced level of pain and discomfort. I hesitated initially, because of extensive published data I had read questioning the benefits of back surgery. However, in November 2007, I visited Dr. Härtl for a second time and told him that I was ready to have the surgery.

On December 6, 2007, Dr. Härtl inserted two titanium rods between vertebrae numbers 4 and 5, in addition to the laminectomy. This was necessary because of my misaligned vertebrae. I am happy to report that since my recovery, I have actually been completely pain free, which from a statistical standpoint, puts me in an even better range than the 70 to 80 percent of patients."


Patient: Charlie

Dr. Härtl,

I report into you with very good news. This past year has shown continued improvement of my lower spine since surgery.

Heeding your advice of having patience in the healing process, I kept expectations in check and when I grew frustrated by pain or pinched nerves within those first three month, I heard your voice saying, "Have patience."

Surgery was March 5, 2008; by June things started to settle in. What I mean is there was less lumbar pain and pinched sciatic nerve. In June, Bridget and I took my son and his family on their first cruise. I sat a lot yet, was able to do enough to feel I was on vacation and participating with everyone.

July was the first time I could walk about a mile with only one stop. Previously, I stopped every two blocks. It has been slow and steady since.

I do get pain from time to time, often as a result of muscle spasms. My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant, which I take from time to time. Other causes of lumbar or sciatic pain are usually a result of too much exertion: like driving for a period of two hours without a break or standing too long.

The great news is my ability to do things has been exponential compared to two years ago. Finally, I am having my apartment cleaned up and painted.

So, that's the update.