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Patient Stories

Rheumatoid Arthritis to Scoliosis: Nancy's Journey with UC Health

Jul. 11, 2024

The Healing Power of Expert Care Coordination


After living in Nashville for over 40 years, Nancy Hodges moved to Cincinnati 11 years ago to be closer to her daughter and her family. Nancy had long battled rheumatoid arthritis, necessitating regular medical attention. In Nashville, she received care at Vanderbilt University Hospital, which became crucial to her life. When she decided to relocate, her internal medicine doctor at Vanderbilt strongly recommended that she continue her care at UC Health, renowned for its exceptional handling of complex conditions like hers.

The Journey to UC Health

Nancy recalls, “My doctor at Vanderbilt felt strongly that I should come to UC [Health] because it was such a good hospital, but also because of the multiple problems that rheumatoid arthritis causes.”

Upon her arrival in Cincinnati, Nancy relied on a recommendation list provided by a friend to choose a new internist. The first name on the list was Dr. Bradley Mathis, and it turned out to be a serendipitous choice. Dr. Mathis's exceptional care played a significant role in managing her various health challenges.

“Nancy had a long-standing and complex medical history. She was accustomed to outstanding care in the Vanderbilt system in Nashville, Tennessee. To match that level of care, as her general internist, it was my job to get to know her medically and personally, as her well-being depended upon a deep understanding of both.  Her understanding of her health and medical history was extensive,” said Dr. Mathis.

Comprehensive and Compassionate Care

“It was important to gain knowledge of her long history, assimilate new information as her condition changed, and find the best fit for specialty care at UC Health to support her in healing and recovery. Ultimately, Nancy required advanced neurosurgical care and was willing to investigate the options at UC Health.  Thankfully, we were uniquely positioned in the region to provide the expertise to drive her high-quality outcome.

Over the years, her care team grew as she navigated multiple health challenges, including Dr. Emily Muntel, an expert rheumatologist who has helped Nancy navigate rheumatoid arthritis in her fingers, feet, hands, and elbows.

“My care team is big. I could give directions to people who are lost at UC,” said Nancy with a laugh.

Nancy's journey at UC Health began in earnest in 2014 Nancy consulted Dr. Mathis for a persistent headache. Given her history of pituitary issues, Dr. Mathis ordered an MRI, revealing a new non-cancerous tumor on her pituitary gland. This led to her second pituitary surgery, performed by Dr. Norberto Andaluz, a renowned UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute neurosurgeon whose compassionate and skilled approach left a lasting impression on Nancy.

“He cared about me so much,” recalls Nancy.

Throughout the years, Nancy faced multiple surgeries, including hip, knee, and back surgeries, all while under the expert care of her UC Health team. A particularly challenging episode occurred in 2019 during a trip back to Nashville, where a severe back pain episode brought her back to Dr. Mathis. He diagnosed her with scoliosis, which was contributing to her excruciating pain.

“It was tremendously painful… By Christmas time, I was in a great deal of pain, and by January 20th, I was in such pain that I couldn't hold myself up,” Nancy remembers.

By January 2020, Nancy's pain had escalated to an unbearable level. She and her daughter sought help from various specialists, including a neurosurgeon at another health system in Cincinnati, but it was Dr. Mathis's recommendation to see Dr. Rani Nasser, another expert neurosurgeon at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, that brought her the relief she desperately needed. Despite a fully booked schedule, Dr. Nasser made time for Nancy, demonstrating deep compassion and understanding of her situation.

Nancy said, “I’m sure [the other hospital] would have been fine, but that doctor did not show me the compassion and caring Dr. Nasser did.”

Life-Changing Surgical Interventions

On February 17, 2020, Dr. Nasser performed a multi-stage surgery on Nancy's back, addressing her scoliosis and removing previous surgical hardware.

“Nancy developed a kypho-scoliotic deformity which left her in disabling pain, without relief with conservative management.  We customized a multi-stage operation to help reconstitute her proper spine alignment as well as to decompress her pinched nerves that were causing her unremitting discomfort,” recounts Dr. Nasser.

“We performed a minimally invasive lateral (side incision) interbody fusion to reduce her scoliotic deformity during the first stage of the operation.  Following that, we corrected her kyphotic deformity through a second-stage posterior (back incision) revision fusion.  Nancy surpassed all expectations during her recovery and could resume her daily living activities again. I am grateful for the exceptional surgical, nursing, and resident team that helped Nancy stand tall again.”

Post-surgery, Nancy experienced remarkable relief and received exceptional care in the ICU and during her recovery. The timing of her surgery was fortuitous; occurring just before the COVID-19 pandemic would have made such a procedure impossible.

“It was like a miracle because I would never have been able to have the surgery, I think if he hadn't taken me right then and there,” said Nancy.

Today, at 80 years old, Nancy leads an active and fulfilling life. She tends to her flower and vegetable gardens, participates in water aerobics every week, and takes daily walks with her Border Collie. She even fulfilled a dream by traveling to Greece with her daughter, a trip that included climbing up the Acropolis and swimming in the Aegean Sea—a trip that truly showcased her ability to enjoy life to the fullest thanks to the expert care she received at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

“I was able to [visit Greece] because of Dr. Nasser,” said Nancy.

From Dr. Mathis and Dr. Muntel’s attentive internal medicine practices to Dr. Nasser's life-changing surgery and the unwavering support of specialists like Dr. Andaluz, Nancy's care team exemplifies the best of UC Health. They addressed her medical needs and engaged with her, treating her as a friend and ensuring she felt valued and cared for at every step.

“They're all smart, expert, skilled and compassionate. They're very open…In my experience, they are not closed off and not just about medicine. It's very personal. I have great trust in them.”

Nancy's story is a testament to the compassionate, personalized, and expert care coordination provided across UC Health.