Ashlee Faircloth Taylor is always on the go. When we first spoke with the 36-year-old Statesboro resident, she was busy juggling the demands of her three children (ages 12, 11, and 8) and planning her upcoming wedding to fiancé Benjii Taylor. But she wasn’t always this active. Just six months ago, Faircloth Taylor’s life had come to a standstill.
"I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t even put on my own shoes and socks. I felt hopeless. My life was being taken away from me,” said Faircloth Taylor.
Faircloth Taylor has degenerative disc disease. The spongy discs in her spine are slowly wearing down and the vertebrae rub together painfully. Three years ago, she also herniated a disc in her back, causing it to pinch her sciatic nerve. As a result, she had constant pain shooting through her right leg, numbness in her feet, and difficulty walking. She needed surgery to repair the herniated disc. Faircloth Taylor met with Raphael Roybal, M.D., a surgeon who helped to create Memorial Spine, a center of excellence for spine surgery and the treatment of spine conditions at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah.
“Dr. Roybal was very up-front with me. He said the surgery may or may not work. He said my other option was a complete spinal fusion,” says Faircloth Taylor.
The surgery did, in fact, ease her pain for two years. But then she fell and re-herniated the disc. This time, it was even worse.
“Anybody who has ever lived with back pain knows that it’s miserable,” said Faircloth Taylor. “It’s worse than the pain of childbirth. It’s worse than any other pain I’ve ever felt.”
Faircloth Taylor was crying every day. Her independence and quality of life were slipping away. The constant pain was affecting every aspect of her life, including her relationships with her children and fiancé. She returned to Roybal’s office and agreed to undergo spinal fusion surgery at Memorial Spine.
“I knew this surgery could make or break it for me. I had to have a good attitude. I had to believe it would work. I had to put my trust in Dr. Roybal and my faith in God,” says Faircloth Taylor.
Her surgery took place on April 18, 2011. Roybal used a minimally invasive approach that required a few small incisions rather than one large cut. He cleaned out damaged discs on the left and right side of Faircloth Taylor’s spine. To relieve the pressure on her sciatic nerve, he placed titanium interbody cages on both sides of her spine. The cages help restore normal disc height and take the pressure off of nerves between the discs.
It was a difficult surgery made even more complex by Faircloth Taylor’s health history. Not only was this her second back surgery, but she had also lost a portion of one lung due to illness in 2001. This created a delicate situation for Roybal and the anesthesiologist. However, the surgery was completed successfully.
“When I woke up after surgery, I felt like a new person,” said Faircloth Taylor. Soon after surgery, she was able to walk through the halls with her fiancé. The next morning, she was ready to go home.
“Memorial was great. The nurses were great, the food was great. Everybody was very compassionate,” said Faircloth Taylor.
Within three days, she stopped taking her pain medication. She began physical therapy to regain her strength and mobility. Faircloth Taylor described the physical therapy as very hard, but in a good way. She could feel her independence returning with each session.
An X-ray three months after surgery showed that the bones in her spine were fusing together exactly the way they should. Faircloth Taylor was back on her feet and on the road to recovery.
“I still have days where I’m sore, but it’s nothing like the back pain I used to live with. My quality of life, my children’s lives, my relationships with people, my outlook on life, all of that has changed. Everything has improved,” said Faircloth Taylor.
Today, she can keep up with her children, run errands, and work hard. Best of all, on her wedding day, she was able to stand tall and walk – not limp or hobble – down the aisle.