Lifelong Educator Faces Possible Loss of Mobility Due to Rare Spine Condition

Lifelong Educator Faces Possible Loss of Mobility Due to Rare Spine Condition

During the 17 years that Dr. Rex O. Patton served as principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), he never used a single sick day.

Throughout his tenure in education, he made great strides in his career, such as raising millions of dollars in grant money and receiving accolades from the community from various foundations, such as the Creative Artists Agency Foundation, the Carol and James Collins Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, the Weingart Foundation and more. But, in the beginning of the fall of 2014, he began feeling numbness, tingling and pain in his fingers, hands and arms, along with upper body weakness.

“At work, I noticed that I kept making more and more errors, to the point where I couldn’t even really type. At home, in the morning, it was very difficult for me to button my shirt.”

Within a year, he began to feel numbness in his buttocks, weakness in his legs and to have balance issues.

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“I fell down, while I was walking on the sidewalk, bloodying my nose and scarring my knee.”

Dr. Patton knew he needed to get help. Originally, a neurologist misdiagnosed him with carpal tunnel syndrome, but three MRIs revealed something much more serious, over the course of three months, that prompted Dr. Patton to seek the opinion of neurosurgeons.

“All four doctors told me that my condition, cervical myelopathy, cervical spinal cord syrinx, which caused severe compression of the spine was rare, and that the implications were serious. If I didn’t have spine surgery, I would be forever bound to a wheelchair.”

Due to the urgency of the situation that fell upon Dr. Patton, he had to choose which medical center and doctor he wanted to entrust with his life. Working with Jeffrey C. Wang, MD, codirector of the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC, was the clear choice for Dr. Patton to make.

“I felt touched with Dr. Wang’s humanity, but I was also assured of his professional and international reputation as a top spine surgeon. To further secure my choice, I did my research and spoke with several of Dr. Wang’s past patients with the same spinal issues. Both parents of one of my friends flew in from Lebanon to have spine surgery with Dr. Wang, several years apart, as well.”

Dr. Patton’s spine surgery was originally scheduled for March, but due to the timeliness of the situation, it moved up to February. His surgery was the second spinal surgery done that day.

“After spending nine hours in surgery, Dr. Wang went downstairs and spent almost 30 minutes, late at night, sitting with my family, explaining the success of the procedure to them and where we needed to go.”

Dr. Patton is going through a quick recovery. He is getting stronger each day, has the full support of his family and is looking forward to getting back into a leadership role to give back to the community.

“I felt like I was coming home again. My brother is helping me with my rehabilitation. He calls me the new six million dollar bionic man with a spine of steel — or at least a spine of titanium, with 16 screws and rods. I’m looking forward to getting through physical therapy and getting back to work in another leadership opportunity with the LAUSD.”

That’s just another example of The Keck Effect — helping leaders in the community continue to give back to the next generation.

by Leonard Kim