NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A New York state trooper injured on the job is recovering form a very risky spine surgery that’s attempting to ease his crippling pain.

The surgery had rarely been attempted in this country and it wasn’t just risky, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports it was actually life-threatening.

You normally don’t think of spine surgery as life-threatening, but in this case it was because doctors at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan had to remove a couple of failed artificial discs surrounded by huge blood vessels.

Trooper John Antonelli’s journey started with a manhunt three years ago.

It began as a kidnapping in Westchester County in June of 2016. The victim escaped her captor and that’s when Antonelli discovered the kidnapper hiding in a shed and gave chase.

“I jumped a fence and landed badly,” the trooper said.

That landing caused a couple of herniated spinal discs and excruciating pain.

“It hurts to stand, it hurts to walk or lay down,” Antonelli explained.

Desperate for relief, he went to Europe to have two artificial lumbar disks inserted. It’s a procedure not approved in the U.S. and that’s when things got worse.

“The spine was collapsed in two different ways, pinching off nerves,” Dr. Grigoriy Arutyunyan from Lenox Hill explained.

(Credit: CBS2)

Antonelli’s x-rays showed that the artificial discs had failed in two different directions. They needed to come out, but as Dr Vicken Pamoukian explained, that was potentially life-threatening.

“There was so much scar tissue and so much adhesions in the back that the vena cava and the aorta were stuck on the anterior wall of the spinous process,” the vascular surgeon detailed.

Antonelli’s collapsed spinal discs. (Credit: CBS2)

The two largest blood vessels in the body were right where the disks had to be removed. The slightest tear could mean bleeding out on the table.

“It would be very dangerous and I might not make it through the removal,” Antonelli said.

It was a difficult family discussion, but Antonelli’s quality of life had so deteriorated that he had to take a chance.

After Dr. Pamoukian freed up the blood vessels, Dr. Arutyunyan had to carefully carve out the artificial discs.

“The tricky part was removing them without compromising the structural integrity of the spine,” the orthopedic surgeon said.

Then the next day, Dr. Arutyunyan fused John’s lumbar spine with screws and rods.

Trooper Antonelli was just one week post-op when CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez visited him, moving slowly but without most of his previous pain.

“Feeling well, climbed stairs. Hope to improve at home,” the trooper said.

Later that day, Antonelli got an honor guard of his fellow state troopers as he left the hospital, hoping to soon join them back on the job.

It may sound like a fairly straightforward surgical procedure, but in fact it took hours of planning – preparing to control all the catastrophes that could have happened in such a high risk surgery.


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