Uphill Climb: Ruby Keary Turns to Texas Health Plano for Help

Ruby Keary
Ruby Keary traveled from Colorado to Texas for chronic back pain relief.

Ruby Keary, 70, like many wives and mothers, is a precious treasure in her family. Smart, kind and caring, this gem is adored by her two sons, her sister, and her husband of 45 years, Bob.

Ruby's sweet nature belies chronic back pain with which she has lived for years. Diagnosed with degenerative disc disease in her 20s, Ruby also had arthritic bone spurs. The pain eventually caused her to limp and soon kept her from riding horses and walking around her home near Colorado Springs.

When she couldn't climb a steep hill behind her house any more, Ruby decided it was finally time for the surgery on her back that doctors had told her she would need to have. Hoping for an end to her pain and an increase in mobility, she put her faith in physicians in Colorado and went in for the repair, a fusion - and awoke to horrible pain.

"I was in extreme pain," Ruby remembered. "I had this terrible pain in my foot. Like an electric shock, it would just pulsate. I was in tears. They discharged me and I just kept calling the doctor, saying, 'Please help me, please help me.'"

After checking for a blood clot - which she didn't have - and completing many rounds of steroid injections, which didn't help, the only solution offered to Ruby was more and more pain pills. She saw other physicians to try to get answers, to no avail. In a foggy haze and still experiencing pain after 18 months, Ruby had had enough.

An Answer from the Skies

The solution came not from the physicians Ruby had hoped would help her, but rather, an in-flight magazine.

Texas Health Plano has a dedicated neurosurgery program that offers minimally invasive brain and spine surgery.
Texas Health Plano has a dedicated neurosurgery program that offers minimally invasive brain and spine surgery.

"I'll never forget: we were on a plane to go see my sister in Mississippi, when my son, who is a personal trainer, read in a magazine about Rob Dickerman, D.O., Ph.D., being voted one of the best neurosurgeons in the country."

Ruby's son, Dustin, who has studied muscle activation technique, suggested to his mother that maybe since her nerves seemed to have been so affected that perhaps it was a problem that could be solved by a neurosurgeon.

Dr. Dickerman, neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, is one of a few neurosurgeons in the country with a fellowship in brain and spinal surgery. They flew to Dallas to meet the man that Ruby hoped could relieve her debilitating pain.

"Ruby exhibited a Trendelenberg gait, a classic L5 nerve root injury, with foot drop," recalled Dr. Dickerman. "She had excruciating pain in her left leg. Ruby and her husband have a hill behind their house that she couldn't climb - she couldn't even wiggle her toes."

Ruby chose to have her surgery at Texas Health Plano with Dr. Dickerman who began with a myelogram. Dye was injected into her spine to see which nerves were compressed by filling the nerves' sleeves with fluid. It was immediately apparent that it was the L5 nerve root, which controls the muscles that lift the foot, was crushed by a disc.

Dr. Dickerman knew that utilizing direct neuromonitoring with microscopic guidance would be key in achieving surgical success for Ruby, allowing him to navigate through the scar tissue and to assess the severity of nerve damage.

Also at Dr. Dickerman's disposal was the newest Brainlab technology that provides neurosurgeons with a live navigation system intraoperatively to minimize surgical incisions. This technology, introduced to North Texas by Texas Health Plano, improves accuracy when surgeons are placing hardware or removing brain or spinal tumors.

In surgery, Dr. Dickerman dissected the nerve root from the bone and then used the neuromonitoring technique to stimulate the nerve root and ensure he had the right one. Because it had been crushed for so long, it took a lot of stimulation to get the nerve to move. Dr. Dickerman then decompressed the nerve root, removing bone and scar tissue underneath Ruby's herniated disc.

The good news came sooner than expected: Ruby began wiggling her big toe in the recovery room.

Recovery for Ruby

Ruby Keary and her son walk in the hills behind her Colorado home.
Three months after spinal surgery at Texas Health Plano, Ruby Keary enjoyed a stroll with her son, Dustin, on the rolling hills behind her Colorado home. She also enjoys caring for horses (below).
Ruby Keary also enjoys caring for horses.

Ruby is recovering at home in Colorado, overjoyed at the smallest movements most would take for granted and enjoying relief from back pain.

"Before Dr. Dickerman performed my surgery, I couldn't lift my left leg off my right leg if I laid on my side," she noted. "The other night I tried it out of curiosity - and lifted it six inches! I was so excited, I woke up everyone in the house to come see it. I was tickled to death!"

Ruby continues to work with physical therapists to get muscle movement back from tissue that had atrophied when she wasn't able to move it. Wiggling and lifting toes and her leg and walking straighter than she has in a long time, Ruby is already pleased.

"She has a long road ahead because of the muscle atrophy," said Dr. Dickerman. "I believe she can make a complete recovery and live a life without pain and with a normal gait. When she left the hospital, I thought to myself, 'She'll make a good recovery.'"

Ruby is quick to point out that not only is Dr. Dickerman a talented surgeon, but also a good human being. "He took such good care of us, just as people," she said. "He saw to it that my son had a place to stay while I was here; he made arrangements when I had to go the ER for a stomach virus - he even called the airline to help rearrange my ticket when our schedule changed. I can't even imagine someone as accomplished as he is being willing to take on all these other problems. He's just wonderful. He's really a godse


Dr. Dickerman eschews the praise but points out that Ruby is the same age his own mother would have b


Dr. Dickerman has a devoted fan in Ruby Keary. "Dr. Dickerman has given me a new lease on life and a lot of hope. I know I have a long road to go, but I'm determined to get there."

Ruby's next stop? "There's a hill behind my house I can't wait to climb," she said.

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