Mary Conlon had her first child at NSMC Union Hospital in 1953, and she and her family have been receiving care at the 150-bed community hospital in Lynn ever since. Recently, the great-grandmother came to NSMC Salem Hospital because of chronic lower back pain. Three years before, Conlon was diagnosed with degenerative spondylolisthesis (literally, "spine slippage"), caused by hardening and thinning of the spongy discs that act as shock absorbers for the spine's vertebrae and help hold the spine in place. At the time of her diagnosis, Conlon underwent a laminectomy to remove encroaching bone and disc material and help relieve her pain— a first step toward full recovery that she knew might require additional treatment down the road.
Conlon's learned that she was now a candidate for minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion, the latest advance in treating certain kinds of spinal irregularities. Michael Dean Medlock, M.D., a Massachusetts General Hospital neurosurgeon who practices full-time at NSMC, performed Conlon's surgery at NSMC Salem Hospital. The idea behind the procedure is to stabilize the spine by fusing compromised vertebrae together and eliminating movement between them. "I was thrilled to be able to stay close to home," says Conlon. "Dr. Medlock came highly recommended, and I knew I'd be in excellent hands." She spent about a week in the hospital, getting up to walk on the third day, and went home without spending time at a rehabilitation hospital first (more invasive procedures frequently require inpatient rehabilitation.) For her part, Conlon is feeling positive and plans to be out of her brace in time for her granddaughter's wedding.