Peoria woman has life-changing spine surgery

Ashley Skeeters, far right, had a back surgery similar to Tiger Woods to solve a years-long problem. Thanks to the surgery, the Peoria resident was able to give birth to her third child. Her family includes Blake, 3; husband, Jeremy; daughter Elise, 16; and on her lap, 5-month-old Braxton, born 15 months post-op. (Photo courtesy Ashley Skeeters)

Ashley Skeeters just wanted to have another baby.

That’s what she told Dr. Laura Snyder of Barrow Neurological Institute when she sought help for back pain that remained after a 2009 back surgery in Chicago called microdiscectomy.

“The pain never really went away, to be honest with you,” said Skeeters, who lives in Peoria. “It kept getting worse and worse.

“I had a baby prior to my surgery, and I wanted to have another one. I met Dr. Snyder and let her know we wanted to have another one. She said we’ll see how it all goes.”

Skeeters described her symptoms to Snyder. The disks in her lower back were deteriorating due to degenerative disk disorder. After the 2009 surgery, 25% of her remaining disk on one side remained, with 40% on the other. She then realized she needed a fusion.

Snyder was hopeful.

“When she saw me, she was at her wit’s end with the pain,” Snyder said. “She was scared. She had two kids and really wanted another one. I told her, the goal with this surgery is that you’re more active or you can do the things you want to do.

“I said to her we’re going to get her better. She’s going to be out walking again and playing golf. It takes a while. There are months of recovery. The end game is to get people more functional. It doesn’t always happen. That’s why we have to be really careful about who we chose to do surgery on.”

Snyder performed a complex lumbar fusion of L5, S1 in 2017 and Skeeters said she’s been pain free since then. A lumbar fusion operation joins, or fuses, two or more vertebrae in the lumbar region (the lower back) to stabilize painful motion.

“I like seeing my patients go back to work,” Snyder said. “I understand when my patients tell me they want to return to being outside and active, and I enjoy helping them do so.”

Long battle

Before Barrow Neurological Institute, Skeeters saw a number of orthopedic surgeons. She didn’t think they were necessarily treating the problem.

“They treated more bone issues and things like that,” she said. “It was so much more serious. It had more to do with my nerves. The next level of medical attention I needed was someone who specialized in nerve surgery.”

Skeeters heard of Barrow Neurological Institute but was a little unsure. She heard late Sen. John McCain went there.

“He’s a pretty famous figure,” she said. “To have that in my own backyard was great. I did some research and found Dr. Snyder and reached out to her about my case. I sent her all my information.”

Snyder said many doctors are hesitant to do a follow-up surgery, but she was up for the challenge.

“A lot of spine surgeons are willing to do surgery on patients who haven’t had back surgery before, but they’re not willing to do redo surgeries,” Snyder said.

“The reason why is it can often be harder. There could be a lot more scar tissue. It takes more time. You don’t know what you’re getting into when you go in there.”

Skeeters wanted to share her story because many times, those with back pain only hear negative stories about fusions and surgeries.

Skeeters’ post-operation rehabilitation took three months, and she was off pain meds after one day. Six months after the procedure, Skeeters was back on the golf course. Perhaps fittingly, her game improved after she underwent the same surgery as Tiger Woods.

“I was able to follow through, full extension,” Skeeters said.

In the 20 months since the operation, Skeeters has given birth to her third child and returned to the golf course.

“I have more mobility now than I did prior to surgery,” said Skeeters, 34, who works in software marketing specializing in country club hospitality. “The common myth with fusions is that you have decreased mobility with fusion.”

Snyder agreed with Skeeters’ assessment that fusions have a bad reputation.

“The people who were happy with their fusions aren’t going around and talking about it,” she said. “They’re going back and living their lives. It’s the people who do poorly who go complain to the lawyer or media. Now I get to share baby pictures with Ashley Skeeters.”