Patient Stories

Our patients are our best resource for telling our story. Each person’s result is different, and that is why we tailor our treatments to the individual. Have a story to tell? We appreciate your willingness to share it with our team.

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Joanna Cilwa West Michigan Pain patient storyJoanna Cilwa
Reed City

One Wrong StepJoanna Cilwa says that’s all it took. The 43-year-old Reed City resident was walking her son into a Boy Scout meeting when she slipped on a patch of ice and blacked out. 

“I fell and came down hard on my back,” said Joanna. “Next thing I knew, I had messed up my arm, and suffered a concussion. I was in severe pain.”

The next few years, Joanna underwent numerous treatments, from a minimally invasive procedure to release pressure on the bulging disc in her back, to having a vertebrae removed from her spine to treat her nerves. Then came the migraines, and a host of medications to curb the pain.

“All those mixtures together were a recipe for disaster,” said Joanna. “I was in and out of the hospital with constant pain, living on two hours of sleep a night. I felt like people looked at me like I was a drug seeker. I gained a lot of weight. My marriage was on the rocks. It was horrible. All I could do was lay there.”

One Right Step – Joanna says the best move she made was to get connected to West Michigan Surgery Center specialist Girish Juneja, MD. Using a diagnostic imaging test called a myelogram, Dr. Juneja was able to pinpoint additional problems in Joanna’s spinal canal. 

“No one had ever looked beyond my low back,” said Joanna. “He suggested I get a Spinal Cord Stimulator for my neck, to help control my migraines, and another for my back. I went a year with no issues. It was amazing.”

“The goal is to get the patient to rely less on medication and more on the neuromodulatory device,” says Girish Juneja, MD. “These devices are clinically proven to help people who suffer from pain in the lower back, extremities, even pain in the legs. By placing electrodes where the nerves are going up to the brain, we can block the painful signals and improve the patient’s quality of life.“

Joanna was also prompted to make other changes to help improve her health. She quit smoking and dropped 120 pounds. But just when Joanna thought her luck had changed, tragedy struck again. Early this year, Joanna was involved in a serious car accident that reinjured the upper part of her body.

“One of Dr. Juneja’s nurses was driving behind me when it happened,” says Joanna. “He actually called in to tell them about the accident and to make sure I was doing ok. They got me in right away.”

Joanna ended up having one of her stimulators replaced at West Michigan Surgery Center. She says the new, wireless technology is easy to use, and lasts an entire week without having to be charged.

“The best part is no more muscle relaxers and my pain medication is at an all time low,” says Joanna. “I love this new stimulator technology. I have never had a unit that has lasted this long. It’s just so convenient.”

Joanna Cilwa FamilyAnd while Joanna knows the technology isn’t a cure for her spinal issues, the relief the device provides has helped her experience a new lease on life. She and her husband now foster children, and adopted two more, to add to their family of four. 

“I  finally got my life back again,” says Joanna. “I love that I can attend soccer games with the kids and watch them at their dance lessons. I even help out in the community and have started making new friends.”

Through it all, Joanna says the one constant that has made the difference is the care she received from Dr. Juneja and the entire team at West Michigan Pain and Michigan Primary Care Partners.

“He has always been there for me,” says Joanna. “My whole family now uses all their services. Family medicine, pharmacy, imaging, pain management and surgery. They care about our family and know their patients. If something is wrong, they fix it. I won’t go anywhere else”

For more information on Spinal Cord Stimulation, or to get connected with a member of our care team, view our location page to contact us.

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Rosiebelle Hallowell - Howard CityRosiebelle Hallowell
Howard City

We’re all told to face challenges one step at a time. But what if that simple action proved impossible? That was the case for 72-year-old Rosiebelle Hallowell. 20 years ago, the Howard City resident was seriously injured in a car accident. She says she’s been plagued by chronic pain ever since.

“It’s hard for me to remember a time when I didn’t have pain,” said Hallowell. “I’ve had so many problems with my spine and gone to multiple doctors. Nothing worked.”

Around a year ago, the pain intensified to the point where Rosiebelle felt it every time she took a step. She describes the sensation as an electric shock pulsing through her tailbone and into her legs.

“It’s overwhelming when you are dealing with so much pain,” said Hallowell. “I couldn’t do anything for more than 15 minutes without having to sit down. The pain was so constant and intense that it was very hard to focus on simple tasks.”

Rosiebelle sought the advice of West Michigan Pain Specialist Girish Juneja, MD. Dr. Juneja diagnosed Rosiebelle with spinal stenosis – a common condition that occurs when the spinal canal becomes compressed. That pinching of the spinal cord and nerve roots can cause severe pain, cramping, weakness, or numbness. The pain, which is minimal while a person is bending or at rest, can become unbearable in the back and legs when they begin walking, even short distances.

Surgeons typically treat the condition by removing part of the bone to reduce pressure on the spinal nerves. But the surgery can leave the spine unstable. So physicians may have to fuse the remaining bone back together. Rosiebelle was unsure that kind of surgery was the answer. She had already undergone numerous surgical procedures to relieve pain in other parts of her body.

“I had one disk in my back operated on years ago,” said Hallowell. “And I also had work done on my neck. I just didn’t want to have to go through a difficult recovery again.”

Superion Vertiflex Interspinous SpacerDr. Juneja decided Rosiebelle was a good candidate for a revolutionary new treatment offered at West Michigan Surgery Center. Using a special tube the size of a dime, Dr. Juneja placed a Superion® by Vertiflex® Interspinous Spacer between Rosiebelle’s vertebrae – or bones in her spine. The spacer acts as a blocker, holding the vertebrae open, which works to relieve pressure on the patient’s nerves. The FDA approved procedure takes just minutes, and requires only a small incision in the lower back. Dr. Juneja says he’s excited to offer this minimally invasive alternative to traditional spinal fusion surgery.

“This intervention is a game-changer,” said Dr. Juneja. “Almost every patient can be offered this treatment if they have symptomatic spinal stenosis. This new intervention is so simple, and preserves the bone. As a result, patients recover quicker and can feel the difference almost immediately.”

“It’s unbelievable.” said Hallowell. “One day later and the pain in my legs was just gone. Now I’m able to get back to my artwork and all the other things I love. I am so happy and thankful for Dr. Juneja and his staff. He is a brilliant doctor who truly cares.”

Dr. Juneja is one of only a few doctors in the country and the only doctor in west Michigan trained to perform the procedure using the Vertiflex® Interspinous Spacer. He hopes to help more people like Rosiebelle overcome their pain.

“Our goal is to help patients get back to living their lives without having to depend on medications,” said Dr. Juneja. “We’re proud to bring this state-of-the-art care to the people of our surrounding rural community and beyond.”

For more information on the procedure mentioned in this story watch this video. You can schedule a consultation with a member of our care team by calling (231) 592-1360.

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