Ralph Selensky, 67, leads a busy life. A waiter at renowned Milwaukee restaurant Sanford, Ralph has served guests there for more than three decades. He is an accomplished artist who spends hours painting giant canvases, and he enjoys walking along Lake Michigan near his home in Cudahy.
It was a blow when he began experiencing lower back pain that grew worse over time. By 2018, it was so severe that Ralph often struggled to work an entire evening at the restaurant, and he stopped painting. Simple activities, like getting in and out of the car, were excruciating.
“I’d have to sit and recover from the pain for a minute before I could drive,” he said.
Second Opinion for Long-Term Relief
Ralph was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that compressed nerves in his lower back. His primary care doctor at a different health network referred him to a physician who treated the pain with epidural steroid injections. These offered only temporary relief. Eventually the physician recommended a surgical procedure in which he would place an interspinous device between Ralph’s vertebrae, with the goal of creating space for the compressed nerves. He had the procedure in spring 2021.
“It worked for a while — until it didn’t,” Ralph said.
To his dismay, the pain returned within weeks. Ralph struggled to keep working by taking large doses of ibuprofen, which barely touched the pain. One night, regular guest and good friend Gregory Whitcomb, DC, chiropractor and Medical College of Wisconsin faculty member, arrived at Sanford for dinner and was concerned to hear about Ralph’s continuing pain. Dr. Whitcomb sees patients at the Froedtert & MCW SpineCare location at Tosa Health Center.
“He said, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing it — you’re one tough dude,’” Ralph said.
Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery
Dr. Whitcomb called Ralph to follow up and suggested he make an appointment with Aditya Vedantam, MD, neurosurgeon, fellowship-trained member of the SpineCare team and MCW faculty member.
When Ralph and Dr. Vedantam met in October 2021, the neurosurgeon examined X-rays and MRI images of Ralph’s spine. The images showed that despite the recent surgery to place the interspinous device, Ralph’s nerves were still compressed.
“My specialty is minimally invasive surgery, with smaller incisions that reduce damage to the muscles and soft tissues around the spine,” Dr. Vedantam said. He recommended Ralph have lumbar decompression surgery with the goal of unpinching his nerves and minimizing disruption to his spinal joints and muscles. Ralph was hesitant.
“I was afraid of everything I’ve heard from other people who have had back surgery,” he said. “But I was encouraged by Dr. Vedantam’s expertise and was eager for relief.”
In December 2021, Dr. Vedantam performed the surgery, removing the interspinous device and a synovial cyst, a fluid-filled sac that developed in a joint of the spine, as well as some bone spurs and a ligament impinging on the nerves.
“All we did was unpinch the nerves and give them the best chance to heal so the back and leg pain could resolve,” Dr. Vedantam said.
After his morning surgery, Ralph was able to return home that afternoon under the care of his partner, Anne, a retired nurse. The back pain he had struggled with was gone.
When he saw Dr. Vedantam six weeks after the surgery, Ralph had good news to share. He had resumed work at Sanford and his life was returning to normal. He has since begun painting again and completes a four-mile walk several days a week.
“I would recommend Dr. Whitcomb and Dr. Vedantam at SpineCare wholeheartedly,” Ralph said. “I appreciate the way they treat people and the way they go about their business.”
Multidisciplinary Care for Spine Disorders
Dr. Vedantam believes that patients with spine disorders are well served by SpineCare’s multidisciplinary approach, with neurosurgeons, chiropractors, physiatrists, pain specialists, and occupational and physical therapists all collaborating to provide the best care.
“Dr. Whitcomb and I talk almost every week about complicated cases, and he knew the kind of approach I would take,” Dr. Vedantam said. “I appreciate the exceptional level of open communication and connection we have within our health network.”
The surgery has been life changing for Ralph. “I’m thrilled,” he said. “I’m in a place that I haven’t been in years. It amazes me.”
State-of-the-art diagnostic facilities and advanced technology help our SpineCare experts make a precise diagnosis and treatment plan for each patient. Visit froedtert.com/spine-care for more information or call SpineCare at 414-955-7199 for an appointment.
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