This retiree’s spine surgeries spanned the spectrum — from the most complex to the most common.

“I can stand up straight, and i can look straight ahead,” says Richard Grossman, DDS, with an inflection reflecting a dash of disbelief mixed with absolute appreciation.

Turn the clock back two years, and this Encino resident was neither upbeat nor upright.

“I felt if I had to continue living like that, it wasn’t worth going on,” recalls Grossman, referring to the fact that he was — literally — stumbling through life.

Although he had retired as a practicing orthodontist a decade earlier, Grossman was still teaching in a graduate level dentistry program.

“I would walk from the parking structure to my classroom, and I would bump into trees and people and light posts,” he explains. “I was so bent over that I couldn’t see where I was going, and it was painful to look up.”

Years earlier, Grossman had undergone several surgeries for spinal stenosis — a narrowing of open spaces within the spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. He also had surgery for a life-threatening spinal staph infection. The surgeries and staph took a toll, leaving Grossman with flat back syndrome — a loss of the spine’s natural curvature, forcing sufferers to lean forward and inhibiting the ability to stand upright.

Tired of navigating life hunched over, Grossman asked a physical medicine/rehabilitation physician what could be done. The doctor replied that while there is a potential surgical solution, it can be so complicated he needed to research who had the neurosurgical skills to do it.

This research led to the USC Spine Center and Frank Acosta, Jr., MD, associate professor of neurosurgery at Keck Medicine of USC.

“I could stand up straight right away.”

A renowned neurosurgeon, Acosta is widely recognized for his expertise in complex spine deformity, revision spinal reconstruction, failed back syndrome, and minimally invasive spine surgery.

Dr. Acosta recalls meeting Grossman for the first time.

“Just looking at the way he was bent over, it was clear there was a big problem with global spinal alignment.” This was an issue demanding what Dr. Acosta describes as, “a huge spinal reconstruction and fusion surgery that had to be staged over two days.”

Day one of the October 2014 surgery was devoted to inserting stabilizing titanium screws starting at Grossman’s upper thoracic spine and continuing down to his pelvis. Day two involved attaching rods between the previously placed screws and performing a pedicle subtraction osteotomy, a procedure in which a wedge of bone is removed from the lumbar spine and then closed to recreate a lower-back arch.

A daunting surgery no doubt, but Dr. Acosta specializes in complex spinal deformities and, as he points out, “at the USC Spine Center, we have a whole team dedicated to high-risk spine procedures. These surgeries are intense, but seeing how much they improve people’s quality of life is gratifying.”

Grossman’s two-day surgery unquestionably improved the quality of his life.

“I could stand up straight right away,” he says, “and I was amazed how rapidly the recovery team was able to get me moving. I was ready to accept just a small improvement, but this was such a great improvement. It was wonderful.”

From two days to two hours.

Given Grossman’s rave review, it’s not surprising that he turned to Acosta again in the spring of 2015 when degenerated cervical discs started causing neck and arm pain. This time, rather than undergoing the most complicated neurological procedure, Grossman had the most common. Called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), this roughly two-hour surgery entails removing problem discs and replacing them with bone grafts held in place by small metal plates and screws.

“Diseased or herniated discs in the neck are common, and we have very good results with ACDF,” says Acosta.

Grossman is more than pleased with his surgical outcomes and says people continue to be amazed.

“They remember me being bent over for so long, and they can’t believe how great I look and the fact that I’m standing straight and tall.”

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by Carrie St. Michel