16:17 PM

After years of severe back pain, Chicago resident returns to activities he loves after complex spine surgery

CHICAGO – Bernard Mandelman had a 90 degree bend in his spine and was dependent on a walker the first time he walked into the office of Northwestern Medicine spine surgeon Srikanth Divi, MD. After three years of severe back pain, Mandelman could hardly walk, much less enjoy his favorite 20-mile bicycle rides or trips to the gym.

When numerous medical appointments and physical therapy sessions did not fix what he thought was a back injury, he finally scheduled an appointment with Dr. Divi in hopes of finding relief.

“Dr. Divi came in and said, ‘This is not an injury. You have severe degeneration in your spine that likely started when you were an adolescent,’” Mandelman said.

The 71-year-old Chicago resident’s diagnosis was Grade 3 spondylolisthesis, which happens when a vertebra slips out of place in the spine. In Madelman's case, 75 percent of the vertebra had slipped forward. Dr. Divi shared that spine surgeons usually see one patient every few years with the condition.

“Bernard is a just a genuinely kind human being who had tried all of the nonsurgical options that were available,” Divi said. “He eventually got to the point where he couldn’t interact with his family members, especially his grandchildren. That’s what stood out to me the most.”

Dr. Divi recommended a complex spinal fusion called the Reverse Bohlman technique, which requires a surgical approach from the front and the back from the spine. During the surgery, a hole is drilled between the two slipped vertebrae and a long piece of cadaver bone is inserted in the hole. The spine is also decompressed and stabilized to give the patient the best results.

Mandelman believed the potential benefits of the surgery far outweighed the risk of living the rest of his life in pain. He’d once been a regular at the gym and dreamed of getting back to his long bicycle rides.

“Dr. Divi said to me, ‘If you weren’t so strong, I would never do this,’” Mandelman said. “I told him I would work very hard afterward. At Northwestern, there is such compassion, caring and communication between everybody. It was incredible.”

The day after surgery, Mandelman’s nerve pain was completely gone, and he already stood noticeably straighter. He kept his promise to Dr. Divi, completing physical therapy and staying active by playing with his grandchildren. He now enjoys pain-free exercise at his gym and has even tried an elliptical machine.  

The first time he got back on his bicycle, Mandelman rode for 15 miles with no pain. Today, he’s back to the 20-mile rides he enjoyed before his back pain took him off the roads.

“When I wake up in the morning, I sing praises to everyone at Northwestern Medicine,” Mandelman said. “Everybody. What an experience. I could not imagine any better medical care than from God himself.”