Cervical ADR: The experience of a U.S. airplane pilot

Donald del Carmen is an American airplane pilot living in Hawaii. He has had neck pain for a long time and could not work or play sport normally. That is why he decided to operate at Instituto Clavel. Find out more about his experience!

At first, Donald was going to undergo fusion surgery in the United States in December 2019, but he found out the alternative to this type of surgery: Artificial disc replacement surgery (ADR). After becoming aware of its advantages, he decided to consult Instituto Clavel to find out if his problem could be treated in this way. Dr. Pablo Clavel reviewed his tests and advised him to undergo 2-level cervical ADR surgery and only 1-level cervical fusion surgery, since replacement in that disc was contraindicated in his case. In this way, at least, he could gain mobility and other benefits of this technique at the two higher levels. He explains the whole process in his own words.


You were scheduled to have a fusion surgery, but you found information from Instituto Clavel and decided to consult on ADR. What did not convince you of fusion?

Fusion is the surgery recommended by most surgeons here in the United States, but people I know that did have the fusion procedure were having some issues again. After doing some research, I found that the alternative was ADR.


Did you feel comfortable having the first medical consultation by video call?

Yes, I did. Despite face-to-face is always better, logistically it was much easier to teleconference, and with the current environment (due to the pandemia) this is the norm.


Was the process of sending the medical tests easy?

Yes, I mailed a DVD of my MRI.


You had to postpone the appointment because of the COVID, have you had any problems flying in July? Did you have to show the medical documents you were given at the Instituto Clavel?

I had no problems, the Dutch immigration service wanted to know why we were traveling to Spain and I told them it was for medical purposes. They did not ask me for any proof. The Spanish immigration service did not ask us any question because we had to download an application for them before leaving the United States.


You traveled from Hawaii to Barcelona when all the news was talking about the restriction for tourist trips from some countries, including the United States. Did you know that traveling for surgery was allowed? Were you concerned about that something may go wrong with your trip?

No, I was not aware that it was 100% allowed. I called the embassy here in the USA and they had no firm information about the trips. In fact, they told me that, probably, it would not be possible. The airlines also did not assure me that I would be allowed to enter Spain, despite having medical paperwork as a proof.  Olga was instrumental in my decision to travel, because she confirmed that another patient had traveled from the USA.


When you arrived in Barcelona, what was your first impression of the hospital and the team?

I had a good impression of the hospital; unlike those in the United States, which could be big and impressive, this one is smaller, but efficient. The team was very organized and they treated me very well.


How did you feel on admission for surgery?

I was fine, although it started to get “real” as I’ve never had any major surgery before. Luckily, Sonia made the process very easy.


What happened after the surgery? Did you feel pain when you woke up?

Yes, I felt pain, but it was getting better.


When were you able to start moving?

That evening, but it was the next day I felt confident I could be mobile and stand. [So much so that the patient sent us an email that same day to know where he could eat a good paella].


Did you feel accompanied by the team of the Instituto Clavel during your stay at the hospital? What would you highlight about the treatment given to patients?

Yes, I felt taken care of. I knew that I can get in touch with someone at the clinic at any time. I would highlight that I was treated very well, with respect. I think that, if I had any issues, they would have solved them.


Your daughter accompanied you throughout the process, how was the experience for her?

[Heather, Donald's daughter, explains the experience in her own words]:

I really appreciated the consistent communication with the clinic staff, even months prior to the procedure. They answered not just my dad’s questions, but mine as well. I felt reassured throughout the entire process. A lot of the stress of navigating the hospital was eliminated thanks to staff escorting us at all times wherever we needed to go. I’m very thankful for the nurse staff for being very present and helpful.

In addition, I was pleasantly surprised by the extra support, in particular the interpreter and the nurse, the latter to provide wound care back at the hotel after hospital discharge.

I thank all the staff for coordinating and guiding us through, what could be a very scary process. It was such a success!


When you left the hospital you had rehabilitation sessions at FisioSpine, how were they? How did you feel?

They were good, FisioSpine is a clean and very well-kept clinic. Laia is very good and knowledgeable in procedures like mine, so I trusted her. Now she continues to help me by providing specific information for my therapy here in the United States. The latter is one of the most important factors for me.


You had a check-up appointment with your doctor before returning to Hawaii, what recommendations did he make for your recovery?

His medical advice was to keep up with rehabilitation sessions, don’t work for two months, don’t play high-impact sports for six months, and he gave me instructions on wearing neck collar. He also explained the surgery in detail, how long it took, and some of the procedures that were done.


It's been a few days since the operation, how do you feel now?

Good, stiff neck at times, but improving. The pain usually appears when I am lying down for a long period, when I sleep.


You surf. According to them, how long will it take for you to get back to surf?

Between 6 and 12 months, I can't wait...


Overall, how would you rate your experience at Instituto Clavel?

Very good, I felt very confident at the time of surgery.


Would you recommend it to other people who are going through the same thing? What would you say to them?

I would explain to them everything that I went through, starting with my research. Then I would tell them my experience at the clinic and how I feel so far. That is, I would not recommend it as such because a surgical procedure is a very personal decision. With all the information I would give them, I believe they would be in the right direction if they make the decision to seek treatment at Instituto Clavel.

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