Disc replacement surgery lifts pain, re-launches life

UCLA Health neurosurgeon partnered with Adventist Health caregivers to treat patient.

With regular but relatively minor back pain and headaches, Molly Dalsass turned to a chiropractor for relief several years ago. Despite occasional visits and physical therapy, the discomfort grew, so she tried a pain management specialist, who prescribed epidural injections.

'I keep telling people how blessed I feel to have no pain,' says Molly Dalsass. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

That helped a bit, but relief was temporary. Later, pain began radiating down her left arm, limiting enjoyable activities such as playing with her young daughter.

Dalsass was referred to Dr. Michael Dorsi, a UCLA Health neurosurgeon with offices in Ventura and Westlake Village who provides care at several hospitals. They include Adventist Health Simi Valley, about a mile from Dalsass’s home.

Scheduled for neck surgery to treat a bulging disc and pinched nerves, Dalsass showed up in the emergency department just after midnight on Feb. 17, 2021, about 15 hours before the planned procedure.

“I couldn’t do anything to relieve the pain,” Dalsass recalls. “It was really bad and I was really scared.”

Dr. Dorsi, who specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery, performed a cervical disc replacement. He also delicately shaved bone spurs that were resting on a nerve, the primary source of pain and weakness in Dalsass’s arm and neck. 

“This is a good example of UCLA Health and Adventist caregivers teaming up for the benefit of a patient,” Dorsi said. “The hospital’s facilities and care team were instrumental in her care.”

Dr. Michael Dorsi

UCLA Health has relationships with hospitals across Southern California, which helps to enhance access to care.

What matters most to Dalsass is that she’s now pain-free and back to doing things she enjoys, such as bathing her 7-year old daughter, Emma, and gardening.

“The pain affected my mood and attitude as well,” said Dalsass, 42, a part-time clerical worker at a middle school and wife of a high school teacher. “I was so tired of hurting that I wasn’t engaged in life like I used to be.”

It was her first surgery. Post-operative physical trauma caught her a bit by surprise, Dalsass said, but it was worth it.

“I keep telling people how blessed I feel to have no pain,” she said. “I went under (anesthesia) with tears in my eyes, really afraid, and woke up relieved. Even though it felt like I had been hit by truck, I would do it all over again just to be done with that pain.”

Learn more about UCLA Health Neurosurgery.

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