HSS Spine

HSS Spine Patient Stories

How does one hospital remain the leader in orthopedics? Perhaps our patients say it best.

You may wonder how we collect our patient stories, and the answer is quite simple.  We receive a great many thank-you letters. Read them and you’ll note that more often than not, patients obtained initial diagnoses elsewhere. After consulting with friends and neighbors, they called us.

We’re glad about that. And judging by their letters, so are they.


Chris Pates, East Haven, CT — spine surgery
I am deeply grateful to Dr. Federico Girardi and the extraordinary nursing, diagnostic and rehabilitation teams at HSS Spine. Eight months ago, I ruptured a disc in my lower back sparring in karate. I immediately sought the opinions of two orthopedic surgeons and a neurosurgeon at different academic medical centers in Connecticut. An MRI revealed that disc fragments were pressing on one of the primary nerves that control the hip flexor and quadriceps in my right leg. A disc fragment had also severed a vein, causing a hematoma. The surgeons told me I needed a laminectomy, which consists of removing parts of the spine, in order to repair the damaged areas. They told me that after surgery, I would need to give up most elements of my active lifestyle. I could never do karate, snowboard or run again, but if I was fortunate I might be able to continue cycling. I was also told that if left unattended, the atrophy in my leg would continue to progress and that the damage would eventually be permanent. This was simply unacceptable news and I was immediately standing at a crossroads. My wife and I began praying for a better option, for guidance, for hope. more


Donald T. Donofrio, Newton, NJ — spine surgery
DonaldOne late August morning in 2010, I woke up with what felt like a knife stabbing me between the shoulder blades. Over the next few days, the obvious symptoms of a disc herniation manifested themselves, including the most frightening for me—a loss of 70-75% triceps and chest strength in my right arm. After a few weeks of conservative treatments, which did not resolve the problem, I was ultimately referred to Dr. Bernard Rawlins at HSS by a friend who was not only a healthcare professional, but also a former patient of Dr. Rawlins. I was diagnosed with a severe herniation at C6-7 that was impinging my spinal cord. Without surgery, I risked the loss of use of my arms and/or a continuing degradation of motor function. On October 11, 2010, I entered HSS, where Dr. Rawlins and his team performed ACDF surgery on me. Immediately upon waking, I knew I was better. My first question was, "When can I get back to the gym?" I was discharged the next day. I had to wear a hard collar for about 4 weeks, then a soft collar for a couple of more. more

Claire Papp, Freehold, NJ — spine surgery
I researched the hospital and physician for 9 months prior to my spinal surgery. I spoke with others who had been patients there. As a nurse, I knew too much, and you know how that can be a stress builder. Through prayer and discernment and an uncanny trust in Dr. O' Leary who I hardly knew, I went through with it. I describe the whole experience, including pre admission testing, as a well-oiled system. The coordination was phenomenal. I was treated with respect, knowledge and caring through the many health professionals I encountered. I felt safe and secure while there. No infections and no complications say to me that HSS is a top-notch healthcare facility.

Jeff Dereki,
New York, NY — spine surgery
Jeff SkiingI went to HSS for the second time in seven years to treat a lumbar disc condition. From the initial exam to the epidural treatment, I could not have felt more confident. I am a healthy and active 72 year-old male. With two months of physical therapy, I put on my skis and enjoyed a sport my wife and I share.

Laurel Chehayl, Middletown, NJ — spine surgery
When I came to HSS, Dr. Andrew Sama was the third surgeon I had consulted in this geographic area. I am relatively young - just turning 40 next week - but have already had two spinal surgeries. My previous procedures were completed at very competitive Cleveland, Ohio, area hospitals. I always believed that to have an excellent surgeon, one must accept cursory or second-rate hospital care. HSS has absolutely taught me that this is not the case. From the moment I became Dr. Sama's patient, my life took a turn for the better. I became a patient of an entire body of caregivers, educators, and professionals. I felt heard, supported, and informed before, during, and after my spinal fusion surgery in April 2010. The people working in pain management, physical therapy, and nursing gave me the highest quality of care I could have imagined. Even the nutritionist took the time to listen to my (many!) questions and helped me best move forward after the surgery. I am forever grateful to Dr. Sama and everyone who continues to work with me at HSS. I am so happy to know that I not only get a world-class surgeon but the very same level of care from everyone I encounter at HSS.

Howard Viuker,
Guttenberg, NJ — spine surgery
After several consultations with specialty surgeons it was determined that the only solution to relieve my excruciating lower back pain was surgery. I spoke with fellow Ceramic Artists who had suffered from similar back problems and the unanimous, overwhelming recommendation was Hospital for Special Surgery. I researched their facilities and Dr. Matthew Cunningham's qualifications, which I was impressed with, and it seemed to be right for me. I spoke with Tina Miller, the assistant to Dr. Cunningham, to introduce myself and the reason for my call. Tina was GREAT! She was very knowledgeable, professional and sympathetic to my problem. Tina handled everything efficiently and gave me a wonderful sense of security. I met with Dr. Cunningham, 24 hours later. He reviewed the MRI's with me and discussed my options in a way that I was able to understand. I was confident to make an informed decision. It became clear to me that I made the right choices in both hospital and doctor. In short, my experience at HSS was exceptional. The staff was great and very attentive to my needs. Thanks to Tina Miller, who made it easy to navigate the system, the professional skills of Dr. Cunningham and everyone I came in contact with at the hospital, they made my experience during a very traumatic time very memorable in the most positive way. My recovery went better than I expected and I am back to throwing pots. No pain!

William Hickey, Elmhurst, NY — spine surgery
I had spine surgery on Feb. 3 of this year. My doctor was Patrick O'Leary. I had a very positive experience at HSS. I would highly recommend this hospital to anyone interested. My care was totally professional. Many thanks to all.

Nancy Silberman,
Farmingdale, NJ — spinal fusion
I had a two level spinal fusion on L4L5 and L5S1 in September of 2010. While I am still on the mend, I am glad I selected Dr. Frank P. Cammisa out of the five doctors I saw elsewhere. I liked his procedure and the way he explained it. I know he is very busy, but he had time to explain everything. Questions that I had later were always returned via email in a timely manner. Also, I was very grateful for the superb nursing care at HSS. For my first time staying at a hospital for a week, I was put at ease by the nurses. Both the day nurses and night nurses were wonderful to me. When I came home and had questions about follow-up care, Yvonne Rosario always answered my questions and reassured me when I needed reassuring. The physician assistants Theresa and Vanessa are great, too.

Marielaina Gless, Massapequa, NY — spinal fusion
On 9/16/10 I arrived to have a discectomy and 2 level fusion in my cervical spine with Dr. Charles B. Goodwin. The entire process from the time I arrived was quite impressive. HSS is run like a well-oiled machine and you almost feel like you are checking into a hotel. The atmosphere that is also offered to your family members is quite comfortable and accommodating. The pre-op was incredible. One person specifically dedicated to the IV, another person for dressing, and so forth. The anesthesiologist came in and was quite thorough and addressed the pre- and post-op pain meds quite well. Then Dr. Goodwin came in and we went down to the OR. After the surgery, I stayed in the PACU till 3pm the next day. Anytime I rang the bell, 3 nurses came running. I have had many surgeries and stayed in many different hospitals but never experienced care like I did at HSS. I have been recommending it and bragging about it ever since. So, I am fusing nicely 6 months later. I feel great and all is well.