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A Patient’s Story: From Crippling Back Pain to a Return to Active Motherhood

Kalei Watt is an energetic mother of three young girls. She loves to exercise at a gym, play tennis and participate in all the activities involved in raising her children.

In late 2006, a car accident changed that. The accident caused discs in her lower back to shift out of position, creating excruciating pain as the bones of her spine rubbed against each other. Her doctor prescribed a heavy regimen of pain-killing drugs.

“I was told I had to take them, but it was awful,” Watt said. “I drive a lot because pf my girls, and getting in and out of the car used to kill me. I would cry right in front of my kids, the pain was so bad.”

“I couldn’t live like that. I needed to be healthy again and have a clear head. I had to figure out a better way.”

She was referred to Dr. Nitin Bhatia, a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon and co-director of the UC Irvine Comprehensive Spine Program. Dr. Bhatia determined that Watt was a candidate for a minimally invasive fusion procedure in which he would screw together her L5 vertebra and the bone just below it, the sacrum, or S1.

“I had been anti-surgery but at that point I was willing to do whatever it took,” Watt said.

In late October 2007, Dr. Bhatia made two tiny incisions in Watt’s lower back to insert the surgical instruments and materials, then fused the bones. Watt was up and moving the next day. Within six weeks, Watt was completely mobile and pain-free, even stopping the Tylenol she took post-surgery.

She has nothing but praise for Dr. Bhatia. He always had time for her questions and concerns, she said. “Throughout the whole process he has been calming, kind, thorough, and I have never felt rushed.”

The active mother’s recovery is near complete. “I’ve been on zero medications for the past 1-1/2 months,” Watt said. “I can bend over and pick up things. Dr. Bhatia thinks I might be able to play tennis soon…Dr. Bhatia gave me my life back.”