Procedure has local celeb ‘back’ in the weight room

Rhonda Crowder | 4/14/2014, 1:29 p.m.
Vertebral Body Augmentation is a procedure where cement is injected into a broken bone of the spine.
Fred Griffith

During the middle of the afternoon on June 4th, last year, longtime, local TV personality Fred Griffith was sitting on a bench lifting weights in his building’s gym. He tried to change his position, to lie on his back, but ended up on the floor with the weights still in his hands.

He tried to move but couldn’t.

“It was like the worst pain I had in my life,” said Griffith, 85. “It was like a dagger in my back.”

Griffith was sent to Ahuja Medical Center. Because he was taking the blood thinner, Coumadin, he had to wait for 8 days before they could do the procedure on his back. “That was hell because it hurt all the time and I couldn’t take any meds,” he said.

While hospitalized, Dr. Joel Siegal of Collis Group approached Griffith about a less commonly used procedure referred to a Vertebral Body Augmentation.

“It’s a procedure where we inject cement into a broken bone of the spine,” said Siegal. “So, if someone has a vertebral compression fracture (VCF), those are the building blocks for vertebral bodies of the spine that break. And, you can’t really brace them.”

Griffith said he had never heard of the procedure “and obviously, a lot of other people haven’t either.”

Siegal explained that this surgery isn’t new technology. It’s been out for roughly 15 years. He also explained that, when the spine breaks, there’s no really good way to brace it to allow for healing and pain relief.

So every time someone with VCF moves, he said, they get a sharp stabbing pain which is tremendously debilitating. But Vertebral Body Augmentation takes a minimally invasion approach with X-ray guidance to inject needles into the broken bone, allows the injection of cement.

It goes in like Playdough and, in ten minutes, it hardens, said Siegal.

“Once it hardens, it solidifies the fracture pieces in the bone of the vertebral body, makes them stationary and, 90 percent of the time, the pain goes away within a couple of hours,” he added.

When asked if there any other treatment options for Griffith, Siegal said, “Ninety percent of the time, people get better over three months on their own. The problem is the suffering while they’re waiting. Typically, older people suffer these types of injuries because their bone density is not as strong.”

Siegal continued, “If you take somebody who has a compression fracture, they put themselves on almost a self-imposed bed rest and that’s really bad. So, they may get better over three months.”

But according to Siegal, if you take a guy like Griffith – an active guy – and you tell him to remain bedridden he could become depressed and his life could be drastically altered.

Griffith, who never had any problems with his back, was open to trying vertebral body augmentation.

“I said let’s go for it,” said Griffith.

“I went to sleep and woke up and it wasn’t hurting. Then, the next day, I was walking. I couldn’t believe it,” he continued.

It didn’t take Griffith too long to get back to his normal routine. Prior to the injury, he had been working out 2 to 3 times a week for the last five years. It took about a week or two for Griffith to return to the gym. “But, I was being very careful.”

Griffith doubts if he would’ve been able to continue engaging in physical activity had he not gone through vertebral body augmentation. “I was quite astonished at how successful the surgery was,” he said.