Chet Parlavecchio is used to getting hit from all angles. As a former football player with the Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Cardinals, he would jump right up and continue playing. But when he was faced with severe arm and neck issues, it wasn’t that easy.
“My right arm went numb, and I was experiencing severe neck pain,” explains 62-year-old Chet, who is now vice principal and dean of students at Passaic Valley High School in Little Falls, NJ. “I couldn’t get comfortable – and I couldn’t the discomfort off of my mind.”
While he continued his own weight training and working with the high school football team, Chet knew he had to get to the bottom of what was going on. Thanks to his wife, Jean, who works at Atlantic Health System and recommendations from physicians and nurses, Chet went to see Jay Chun, MD, PhD, “ a neurosurgeon at Altair Health and director of the multidisciplinary spine team at Atlantic Health’s Overlook Medical Center. The integrated center brings all the multidisciplinary experts needed for treatment together in one location so patients receive the best, most expedient care.
“I was very concerned about the symptoms in Chet’s arm, so I immediately ordered an MRI.,” Dr. Chun shares. “The spinal canal in his neck was crushed. The nerves were severely compressed against his bone, causing the weakness and pain. Since the neck is the delivery point of everything that happens in the body, it was critical to treat him right away. One wrong move of his neck could result in devastating paralysis.
Dr. Chun scheduled surgery knowing that once he performed an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), Chet would be back in training shape. ACDF surgery removes a herniated or degenerative vertebral disc in the neck (discectomy) and replaces it with a bone graft (fusion), relieving painful pressure on spinal nerves.
“During the procedure, we made an incision in the front of Chet’s neck beside his windpipe and removed the problem disc, taking great care to not damage his spinal cord and nerve roots,” Dr. Chun details. “We then performed a cervical fusion, inserting an interbody fusion implant to open his canal, allowing his nerves to, once again, send impulses where they needed to go and eliminating his numbness and pain.”
Today, Chet is back in the weight room, working out hard.
“I remember my strength coach at Penn State University telling us how important it is to keep your neck strong,” Chet recalls. “He was adamant about working out our necks before we entered the weight room. His confidence about doing what was right for our bodies – and, in turn, winning – rubbed off on me and my team mates.
“Dr. Chun had the same effect on me. He was my coach in this case. With incredible bedside manner, he was relaxed and confident, which made me the same. Like football coaches who have to win their players over, Dr. Chun won me over. I can’t be happier with the results.”