Manassas gardener gets ‘back’ to her roots

Debbie Harvey and her husband, Jim. Photo provided by Debbie Harvey.

Woman finds relief through minimally invasive spine surgery close to home.

A Manassas resident for nearly 40 years, Debbie Harvey, 67, struggled with chronic back pain for as long as she could remember. She assumed it was the result of aging and an old hamstring injury caused by a fall off a ladder years ago.

When Harvey started having shooting pain down the back of her leg, she began to think it could be something more.

“It felt like someone was poking hot irons down my leg,” she recalled.

The pain was so crippling that she was practically crawling up the stairs at the end of the day.

Harvey was concerned about her ability to keep caring for her ailing mother, so she finally decided to go to a doctor.

Finding hope for healing

The first physician she saw recommended a complicated surgery that left Harvey riddled with anxiety and questioning whether seeking care for her back was the right decision.

“I left that appointment in tears,” she said.

She then tried physical therapy in an attempt to avoid surgery, but that only increased her pain and frustration.

Her physical therapist recommended she see Jarid Tareen, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at UVA Spine Manassas who specializes in minimally invasive and robotic-assisted spinal surgeries. 

After a neurologist confirmed that the damage to Harvey’s sciatic nerve – which was responsible for the shooting pain down her leg – wasn’t significant, Tareen recommended she undergo a minimally invasive spinal fusion.

“A minimally invasive spinal fusion is performed through two small incisions on either side of the spine,” Tareen explained. “The bone and disc that are compressing the nerve are removed with a series of instruments and replaced with a metal cage to help give the spine support.”

“Minimally invasive techniques improve postoperative pain and recovery time for patients compared to traditional ‘open’ surgery,” he added.

Still, Harvey was apprehensive about pursuing surgery, so she waited a few weeks before returning to Tareen’s office.

When Tareen took the time to explain everything in detail once again, Harvey knew she’d finally found the right option to relieve her chronic pain.

“The fact that he sent me to a neurologist for a second opinion and took the time to make sure I was comfortable with what was happening convinced me to schedule the surgery.”

On Jan. 29, 2021, Harvey underwent a minimally invasive spinal fusion at L4 to L5 and L5 to S1.

When the anesthesia wore off after her surgery, it was the first time in years that Harvey  awakened without pain shooting down her leg. But that wasn’t the only surprise she experienced that day.

Tareen gave Harvey his personal cell phone number so she could call him with any questions or concerns after she was discharged from the hospital.

“He even called me personally to see how I was doing while I was recovering at home,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for better care.”

Two weeks later at her follow-up appointment, Harvey stood up out of a chair with no assistance. Tareen and his staff were thrilled with her progress.

By April, Harvey was back to doing what she loved most: gardening and spending time with family.

‘Don’t wait for it to get better’

Chronic pain can interfere with your daily life, keeping you from enjoying time with your loved ones or accomplishing daily tasks.

Harvey urges anyone experiencing chronic pain to seek care sooner rather than later.

“Don’t wait for it to get better on its own because it doesn’t,” she stated. “You don’t have to travel far away to find relief.”

Harvey credits Tareen with the marked improvement in her quality of life and encourages others to seek help for their back pain.

“Always get a second opinion, and always ask questions,” she advised. “Even if it takes two or three trips to the doctor to get you to make the right decision for your health, just do it.”

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