A Second Opinion for Severe Back Pain Leads Patient to Dramatic Pain Relief from Spondylolisthesis

Altair Health neurosurgeon Scott A. Meyer, MD performs first TOPS™ replacement in NJ

Like millions of Americans, Jill Douglas, 55, of Hewitt, New Jersey had been suffering from back pain for years. After two years of taking gabapentin to treat spondylolisthesis – a severely painful condition that occurs when a vertebra slips out of place onto the bone below it – the pain radiating down her back and legs became unbearable. Jill decided it was finally time to see a neurosurgeon.

TOPS™ replacement

Jill Douglas could no longer ride horses – let alone walk at times – due to excruciating back pain from spondylolisthesis. After her spine surgery at Overlook Medical Center, she is pain free and riding again.

“The first neurosurgeon wanted to put me into surgery two weeks after I first saw him,” explains Jill, who was naturally hesitant to go directly into the operating room during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. “That was just too quick for me.”

She instead sought a second opinion from Scott A. Meyer, MD, a board-certified neurosurgeon and spine specialist at Altair Health – at the recommendation of her sister, a former patient of Dr. Meyer. Dr. Meyer recommended Jill follow a coordinated regimen of pain management coupled with physical therapy to exhaust non-surgical treatment options before moving forward with surgery.

“Jill had severe bilateral radicular pain that unfortunately did not improve with months of pain management and physical therapy,” says Dr. Meyer. “At that point, it not only became very clear that spinal surgery would be the best route to stabilize her vertebrae and eliminate nerve pain, but also that she would be an excellent candidate for the TOPS™ clinical trial.”

TOPS™, which stands for Total Posterior Arthroplasty System, is a screw-based implant that serves as an alternative to traditional spinal fusion. Instead of locking vertebrae together through fusion, the device stabilizes the vertebral segment while still allowing normal motion in all directions. The TOPS device has been commercially available in Europe, the UK, Australia and elsewhere since 2012. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration/Investigational Device Exemption trial is part of the process for bringing TOPS to patients in the U.S., including at Overlook Medical Center and Morristown Medical Center.

“Dr. Meyer explained the difference between regular spinal fusion and the TOPS device,” notes Jill. “If participating gave me a chance to preserve my range of motion, I was all for it.”

Jill was the first patient in New Jersey to participate in the clinical trial and had her surgery at Overlook Medical Center in Summit.

“This clinical trial presented her with an opportunity to be pain free and keep her range of motion,” says Dr. Meyer.

Jill now says all the pain she was experiencing prior to surgery is gone. She’s working through physical therapy as she recovers and is looking forward to getting back on her horses and riding again.

“I’m amazed,” concludes Jill. “Before I would yell out in pain because everything I did, even things like sitting down at the computer or getting up to get coffee, was so excruciating. Thanks to Dr. Meyer, I feel like a completely new person.”