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Resurgens Orthopaedics Patient Returns to Golf After Suffering a Spinal Abscess

When Mike Dunham looks back on 2009, he talks about how his wife Debbie "is the true hero" who stepped up to make sure he got the best healthcare possible, "when I fell asleep last summer."

Dunham's experience was more than a long summer's nap. Dunham, 53, a patient of Dr. Maurice L. Goins at the Resurgens Orthopaedics Fayetteville office, suffered an abscess on his spine that resulted in rapid paralysis and required emergency surgery. He remained in a coma for 21 days before waking up and moving to Atlanta's Shepherd Spinal Center for rehabilitation.

Now, a year later, Dunham is back to his normal 65-hour weeks as executive vice president of the Georgia Branch Associated General Contractors and played 18 holes of golf in May for the first time since last summer.

Dunham said his wife "stepped up and engaged a lot of folks" as she managed his complex care. Only afterwards did Dunham and his family know that doctors thought he had about a 15 percent chance of surviving, and that Dr. Goins thought he would never walk again.

Dunham's life-threatening condition started as a staph infection that apparently began as a sinus infection, he said. The resulting spinal abscess triggered intense pain that led him to Dr. Goins.

In addition to the support and encouragement from his wife, Dunham credits his recovery to having "a primary care doctor who sent me to a wonderful doctor" at Resurgens, he said of Dr. Goins.

Dr. Goins, an orthopaedic surgeon who works in the Fayetteville and Morrow offices of Resurgens, the largest orthopaedic practice in Georgia, saw Dunham in his office on Monday morning after the 4th of July holiday weekend in 2009. Dunham experienced severe pain while in California for a conference and went to see Dr. Goins as soon as he returned home.

"He came into the office with severe neck pain and mild weakness and described pain like 'lightning bolts going down his spine.' I ordered an MRI immediately and it revealed a retropharyngeal abscess and an epidural abscess with discitis and severe spinal erosion. Within 30 minutes he was paralyzed and unable to walk or move his arms," Dr. Goins said.

By 8 p.m. that evening, Dr. Goins had Dunham in the operating room, and surgery lasted until 3 a.m. "We performed extensive spinal surgery, decompressing his spinal cord by removing the infected vertebral body, and stabilized his spine with plates, screws, rods, and a halo," Dr. Goins said.

"Three of my spinal vertebra had practically dissolved because of a staff infection," Dunham said, recounting how after surgery he was "asleep" in the ICU at Fayette County Community Hospital for 21 days.

"I lost 50 pounds, suffered congestive heart failure, and had renal failure," Dunham said about his condition.

When he was strong enough to leave the ICU and start rehab, Dunham's wife helped arranged for him to be transferred to Shepherd, where he "spent two weeks going from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches and then home with a halo."

"I did my 14 weeks with the halo, and stayed on antibiotics that killed any remaining staph infection. After I got the halo off, I wore a neck brace for nine weeks, Dunham recalled.

After rehab at Shepherd, Dunham walked out, using only crutches.

Dr. Goins's areas of expertise include reconstructive spine surgery and cervical spine surgery as well as minimally invasive spine surgery, lumbar spine surgery, total disc arthroplasty, kyphoplasty, general orthopaedics, and sports medicine. He completed his medical degree and his residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. and a fellowship in spine surgery at Thomas Jefferson University/Rothman Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Dunham and his wife live outside Peachtree City. They have two daughters, Dana, 29, Ashley, 24. Throughout his illness and recovery, Dunham's co-workers at Associated General Contractors managed the workload so that when he returned to his job, his work responsibilities had been covered. "I can't thank them enough for all their help and support," Dunham said. 


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