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Hayward Woman Regains Mobility After Delicate Spine Surgery

Hayward Woman Regains Mobility After Delicate Spine Surgery

“I understand I am a walking miracle.”

Desiree Gaines Munoz didn’t know how close to becoming paralyzed she was when she went to Washington Hospital last April. Her legs were weak and she could barely feel them, but she thought she was suffering from a vitamin B deficiency. Instead, she had an overgrowth of bone in her vertebrae that was crushing her spinal cord. Now, after a nine-hour surgery and months of rehabilitation, she is back on her feet.

“It was a very complicated case,” said Dr. Rajiv Saigal, a neurosurgeon with Washington Township Medical Foundation who performed the spine surgery. “She has made a remarkable recovery.”

Munoz agreed, “I understand I am a walking miracle. I had the best care – and I mean the best.”

The former nurse believes it all started about 20 years ago when she fell while getting out of the shower at her local gym. Soon after that, she started having back pain.

“It felt like I had a bulge on my lower back,” Munoz explained. “Around 2006, my husband and I had just started dating and he encouraged me to see a chiropractor, who said it was arthritis. Fast forward to 2020, and that’s when I noticed some strange things happening.”

Munoz experienced several incidents where she stumbled or fell without any apparent reason – one time while holding her grandson. Fortunately, neither of them was injured.

“For the last couple years, it’s been difficult to walk due to the back pain,” she added. “I started having to use a walker just to go to the store. I took pain meds and slept with ice packs to deal with it.”

Then last April, she fell while getting out of her car. “My leg just gave out,” she said. “I couldn’t feel my right leg. My husband helped me into the house. Then I fell again on my way to my bedroom. I literally had to crawl to my room. I could see my legs behind me, but I couldn’t feel them. I told my husband he needed to take me to urgent care the next day. I talked to my nutritionist and she said it was probably a vitamin B deficiency.”

Long Road to Recovery

“Instead of getting a vitamin B infusion, I was admitted to the hospital,” Munoz recalled. “I was told that my vertebrae was crushing my spinal cord. It was quite a shock. If I had waited much longer, I would be paralyzed.”

Normally, the spinal cord is protected in the spinal canal by the surrounding cerebrospinal fluid, vertebrae, discs and ligaments. In Munoz’ case, the spinal canal was narrowed and her spinal cord was compressed by a ligament that had converted to bone, Dr. Saigal explained. In 2009, Munoz had received radiation to treat breast cancer, which could have possibly caused the ligament to become bone, he added.

“The bone had to be removed from the spinal cord using micro instruments and high-resolution microscopic vision equipment,” Dr. Saigal said. “It was a very delicate surgery. With this degree of bone formation, it’s as complicated as it gets.”

After the surgery, Munoz recovered at Washington Hospital for three weeks before going to a rehabilitation center, where she spent a month regaining her strength and learning how to manage.

“I’m grateful for the care I received,” she said. “I’ve worked with neurosurgeons before, and Dr. Saigal is the nicest one I’ve come across. His bedside manner is wonderful.”

Munoz is looking forward to spending more time with her four grown children and six grandchildren, and she would like to get back to work.

“I want to go back to school and get my master’s degree and teach,” she added. “They need more nursing instructors, and I’d like to do that.”

Dr. Saigal joined the neurosurgery team at Washington Township Medical Foundation and the Bell Neuroscience Institute last year and specializes in minimally invasive techniques, spinal deformity, spinal tumors, spinal cord injury and degenerative spine disorders. He also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at UCSF and conducts research there that could eventually improve surgical outcomes for spine patients.

For more information about neuroscience services available at Washington Hospital, visit