Whether she is tending to her garden, playing with her 1-year-old granddaughter or perfecting her pose at a Pilates class, Paula Bafan, 56, is almost constantly in motion. The Aliso Viejo resident struggled with back pain for years but was able to maintain her active lifestyle with an array of nonsurgical treatments recommended by her doctor. She tried massage and acupuncture, chiropractic care, physical therapy and, finally, steroid injections. 

Over time, however, the effects of the treatments began to dwindle, and even the steroids stopped working.

“The pain emanated from my lower back and spread to my right hip, down through the back of my leg,” Paula said. “Due to the pain, I was no longer getting restful sleep. I felt drained even when I was awake.” 

A friend recommended Payam Farjoodi, MD, orthopedic surgeon with the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, who she met with in October 2021. 

Paula Bafan and Dr. FarjoodiAfter her consultation, Dr. Farjoodi studied data from Paula’s MRI and X-rays, medical history and a physical exam. He diagnosed her with degenerative disc disease of her lumbar spine, a common condition in which the gel-like cushions between the vertebrae wear out, leaving the bones to grind against one another. She also had some narrowing of the foramen, the space where the nerves exit the spinal canal and branch off into the leg. 

Because she had dealt with pain for years and already exhausted nearly every other treatment option, Dr. Farjoodi recommended surgery to improve her quality of life and free her from pain. 

Many patients don’t know where to turn with a back problem, The spine is complex, but the goal is simple: reduce pain and improve quality of life quickly and with minimal disruption.

Payam Farjoodi, MD

Before surgery, Paula met Winnie Elias, BSN, RN, OCN®, BCN, PHN, ortho-spine/bariatric patient navigator at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center. Winnie answered Paula’s questions, ensured she played an active role in her care, and showed her the resources available at the Spine Health Center. She even taught her what to expect before, during and after surgery at an educational class.

“The class was incredibly helpful,” Paula said. “Knowing what to expect put me at ease about the surgery.” 

On Dec. 20, 2021, Dr. Farjoodi performed an anterior lumbar decompression and fusion. He removed what remained of the disc and replaced it with a spacer – a synthetic ring filled with bone graft material and stem cells – and added hardware to stabilize Paula’s spine. During recovery, the spacer would form a bridge of bone, fusing the two vertebrae into one. 

Paula stayed overnight in the hospital, where physical and occupational therapists taught her exercises to manage pain and get back to activities of daily life. After 12 weeks of recovery, she is back to enjoying her hobbies – only this time without back pain. 

“This surgery has changed my life,” Paula said. “I’m not constantly thinking about pain and modifying my movements to accommodate my limitations.”

The Spine Health Center 

The Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center was built on a new and unique approach to neck and back care with a highly innovative patient care model that focuses on collaboration between a variety of specialists. 

At a patient’s first appointment at the Spine Health Center, they meet with a physiatrist, a doctor who specializes in nonsurgical treatment of a wide variety of medical conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons.  

The physiatrist performs a thorough clinical assessment and develops an individualized care plan for each patient, which may involve specialists in multiple disciplines, including physical therapy, pain management, neurology, neurosurgery or orthopedic surgery. If surgery is needed, a coordinated spine care model is in place to facilitate the highest level of care. 

Learn more about the Spine Health and to schedule a consultation