Joe Pascarella

Spine Surgery Helps Patient Suffering from Debilitating Pain for Decades

Photo: Joe with Jason D. Cohen, MD, FACS, orthopedic surgeon and chair of orthopedics at Monmouth Medical Center.

For more than 20 years, Joe Pascarella of Middletown had been experiencing neck and shoulder pain. While he initially saw a doctor and was diagnosed with a pinched nerve, the now 61-year-old turned down the suggestion of surgery.

“Not being a medical person, I wasn’t sure I wanted to have an operation,” he said.

But after two decades and experiencing pain that was getting progressively worse, Joe – a financial advisor with LPL Financial and grandfather of three – decided he needed to take action.

“I was up moaning and groaning at night. Turning my head to the left or the right or even turning back to put the seatbelt on was bad,” said Joe. “It was difficult to lift arms above shoulder height to hold my grandkids. The pain simply got to be unbearable. I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

A Surprising Diagnosis

When Joe decided it was time to see a doctor, he made an appointment with Jason D. Cohen, MD, FACS, orthopedic surgeon and chair of orthopedics at Monmouth Medical Center. Dr. Cohen diagnosed Joe with herniated discs, radiculopathy and spinal stenosis - or narrowing of the spinal column – all of which can cause pain.

“It had been 20 years since I last had an MRI so I needed a new one. I was shocked when Dr. Cohen reviewed the new test and told me I now had three pinched nerves,” said Joe.

Dr. Cohen suggested Joe undergo a three-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion from C4 to C7 to remove the discs and relieve the pressure on the nerves. Once the discs are removed, an implant would be inserted into the disc space which is then filled with the patient’s own bone to facilitate the fusion and create the environment for the body to heal the space as a solid bone. A titanium plate would be placed alongside the spine - in Joe’s case from C4 to C7 - to secure the spine and aid in healing.

“This procedure, completed through a small incision in the front of the neck, is the gold standard for cervical disc herniations and is an option for the majority with neck and arm pain with very good results,” said Dr. Cohen.

“To me, someone who is not a medical person, it all sounded like it was going to be a big deal and it was a little scary. But Dr. Cohen, Nicole – one of the nurses - and the entire staff at The Spine Center at Monmouth Medical Center were able to mitigate my fears by explaining everything to me through the entire process – from the consultation and spine test, to pre-admission testing, to right before I went into surgery,” said Joe.

Surgery is a Success

Despite his fears, Joe made it through surgery with flying colors.

“Before I knew it, I was in recovery with a neck brace on – and that was it,” he said.

While Joe says wearing the brace was a little uncomfortable, when he was able to remove it a week after surgery, he was amazed.

“I suffered for so many years – and in a week’s time, the pain was gone. It was a miracle,” he said. “I was very afraid but through the whole experience, Dr. Cohen and everyone I met with was very professional, courteous and nice. From soup to nuts, it was fantastic.”

Now, after dealing with decades of pain, Joe credits Dr. Cohen with changing his life.

“It’s very ugly to be suffering like I was, but today, I feel like new person. I can do all of the handiwork and repairs around the house that were difficult and I can even pick up both of my grandchildren,” he said. “After what Dr. Cohen did for me, I tell anyone who will listen about what he does.”

Photo: Joe with his grandchildren Ella and Cole.