Grateful for every step
By Alex Branch
Patrick May told his fiancé good night, walked down the hallway to his bedroom and fell soundly asleep.
Hours later, he startled awake.
“My legs wouldn’t move,” said May, 65. “From my waist down, I was paralyzed. I thought I was dying – or at least about to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.”
May avoided that fate, thanks to dedicated care and an eight-hour emergency surgery performed by Douglas Dickson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and Assistant Professor at UNT Health Science Center.
Judy Stewart, May’s fiancé, heard his shouts for help that night in January 2015 and dialed 911, then rode in the ambulance with him to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. An MRI of May’s spinal cord gave Dr. Dickson the information he needed to understand what was happening. The surgeon joined Stewart in a prayer and prepared for surgery.
A few months earlier, May had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The cancer had caused a lesion to occupy about 60 percent of his spinal canal, compressing his spine and causing May’s paralysis.
Dr. Dickson made an incision in May’s back and decompressed his spinal cord by cutting some of the bony covering of the spinal canal. Using a microscope, he removed the growth from the paper thin membrane covering the spinal cord known as the dura.
“This was the meticulous part, because you have to keep the dura intact,” Dr. Dickson said. “When you are decompressing the spine on an already compromised spinal cord, you need to be absolutely careful because you can cause more damage.”
Once the growth was removed, Dr. Dickson inserted two rods, 16 screws and two cross connectors to support May’s spine. Then he went to the waiting room and told Stewart the operation was successful.
Months of physical therapy followed, and recovery was slow. But in his Mansfield home, May moves with help from a walker.
Recently, he proudly stood raised the walker off the ground to prove he can support his own weight. Every step he takes, he said, makes him more grateful for Dr. Dickson.
“Will I walk again?” May repeated, grinning at Stewart. “We’re going to dance!”
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