Javier's spine before and after treatment from Dr. Verma
Javier's spine before (left) and after (after) treatment from Dr. Verma

Javier Baeza was an aircraft mechanic for United. He earned his living by making sure every aircraft was ready for flight. It was honest work, and he worked hard.

Then the accident happened.

One day at work, Javier hit his head on a landing gear door. At first, the injury did not seem serious, until he experienced a stabbing sensation in his shoulder blade. Workers’ compensation sent him to physical therapy for a year to solve the problem, but the pain never went away. Finally, Javier was sent to get an MRI to find what was wrong. The diagnosis… three crushed vertebrae in his spine.

Javier received reconstructive spinal surgery, but that surgery was only successful for a month because the cage placed around his spine was too large. This caused a serious infection in his throat, making his throat swollen to the point he could not breathe or swallow. He was rushed again to a local community hospital.

“I can remember the first time I went to the ER after that first surgery,” says Javier. “I had to lift my head to the sky to breathe, and I had to spit into a bag because I couldn’t even swallow my spit. It was horrible.”

Javier went to the community hospital twice over the course of a year, but there wasn’t a doctor who had the training to treat his complex case. Finally, he met Kushagra Verma, MD, orthopedic surgeon, Spine Health Center, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center.

“When I met Javier and learned of his condition, I told him to come to Long Beach Medical Center to get treated,” said Dr. Verma. “He needed a very complex cervical reconstruction, a procedure that is usually done at academic institutions. Long Beach Medical Center is a tertiary leader in orthopedic surgery and one of the few hospitals equipped to handle complex cases like Javier’s.”

Javier needed reconstructive surgery again. This time, Dr. Verma wanted to make sure there were no complications.

“We created an incision in his neck to reach the faulty implants,” said Dr. Verma. “We drilled into the bone, took out his old implants and put in a new plastic cage and screws to take pressure off the nerves in his neck.”

After the second surgery with Dr. Verma, everything changed. Javier’s throat was no longer swollen, and after two long years, he could breathe and swallow normally again.

“It’s amazing that we could help Javier swallow and breathe again,” said Dr. Verma. “With our help, we were able to help him get his life back.

Today, Javier is back at United as one of their aircraft inspectors. He still experiences some pain in his neck and shoulders, so he continues to meet with Dr. Verma to manage the pain and recovery.

Thanks to Dr. Verma, I was finally able to get my life back, without him, I don’t know where I’d be.

Javier Baeza