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Neurosurgeon removes spinal tumor, relieves patient of extreme numbness

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Unfortunately for Joseph Leroy, a walking cane had become his best friend. The weakness in his legs was too much to bear unassisted. He also experienced stints of leg and abdominal numbness, as well as left arm weakness.

Examinations at UF Health Jacksonville showed that Leroy, 65, had kidney cancer, also known as renal cell carcinoma, which had spread to other parts of his body. A tumor was found on his spinal cord at the point where the neck meets the chest. The tumor was compressing his spinal cord, which was the source of the numbness and weakness. It also led to urinary dysfunction.

“It’s pretty common for tumors to spread – or metathesize – to the spine. We see it quite a bit,” said Sassan Keshavarzi, MD, interim chair and assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

Keshavarzi performed two surgeries to address Leroy’s spinal tumor. He first entered the back of Leroy’s neck to take pressure off the spinal cord and remove as much of the tumor as he could from the rear. He then installed screws and hardware to stabilize the spine.

Joseph Leroy regained movement of his limbs and control of his bladder following the removal of a tumor from his spinal cord.

For the second procedure a few days later, Keshavarzi went through the front of Leroy’s neck to remove the rest of the tumor, which had infiltrated the vertebra at the base of his neck. He then installed a special plating system and cage to reconstruct the front.

The numbness in Leroy’s legs and left arm has subsided and he’s much stronger now compared to before the surgeries. He’s able move his limbs freely, has control of his bladder and can walk without a cane.

“My legs are good. I can feel them,” Leroy said. “I’m glad he’s the one who did surgery on me, I really am.”

Leroy continues to undergo chemotherapy treatment, as the cancer has spread to other parts of his body. Though Keshavarzi isn’t able to offer a cure, he’s happy to know he’s helped improve Leroy’s quality of life. Without the spine procedures, Leroy would likely be in a wheelchair relying on the daily assistance of a caregiver. Keshavarzi said loss of bladder control would have continued to be part of his limitations.

But Leroy doesn’t use a catheter and has been able to maintain independence.

“It’s a dramatically different experience, and that is exceptionally gratifying,” Keshavarzi said of Leroy’s restored freedom. “He’s very much at a low moment and we get to come in and change his life in a significant way.”

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