Thoracic Schwannoma

Amy's patient story


In April 2020, just as she was settling in to her work-from-home pandemic routine, Amy Gates started to experience pain in her back and rib area. The pain was not unlike something she had dealt with five years earlier, although this time it was much more intense.

Life Disrupted by Pain

“The pain radiated from below my shoulder blades on the left side around to my ribs,” Amy describes. “I had some burning pain in my back, but the primary and worst pain was felt in my ribs on my left side.”

Amy had difficulty sleeping. It was very painful when she sneezed or coughed. She missed the motorcycle rides she and her husband enjoyed—the vibrations just caused too much pain.

Diagnosis and New Steps to Treatment

Roxann seated on a couch

As she considered what steps to take, Amy recalled her path five years ago. It began with an X-ray ordered by her primary care doctor who felt she was facing a musculoskeletal issue. The X-ray revealed nothing. After a year of discomfort, Amy tried chiropractic care and massage therapy. Over the next six months the pain gradually went away.

Amy again tried chiropractic care and massage therapy, but this time felt no relief. A few months later she consulted with her primary care doctor. She then tried muscle relaxers and a nerve-block treatment with a pain management physician, but the pain persisted.

An MRI Provides Answers

Amy’s next step was an MRI to get a better look at her back and spine.

The MRI revealed a thoracic schwannoma—a tumor that originates from the layer of insulation that surrounds the spinal nerves. These nerves branch out from the spinal cord to connect the nervous system (brain and spine) with the rest of the body. Schwannomas are benign, or non-cancerous, tumors that typically grow slowly.

Due to the size of the tumor and the pressure it was placing on her spinal cord, Amy was quickly scheduled with neurosurgeon Dr. Nick Hernandez. The tumor was taking up much of the spinal canal—the space in between the bones in the spine where the spinal cord resides.

Surgery and Recovery

Amy had surgery to remove the thoracic schwannoma on October 14.

“Dr. Hernandez told me the minute the tumor is removed, you will feel better,” says Amy. “And he was right. I have had some achiness and muscle fatigue in my back from the surgery, but the sharp pain in my ribs is gone.”

The experience from MRI to surgery was very quick and handled with great care, she says.
“The staff at LG Health Physicians NeuroScience & Spine Associates helped every step of the way and all of the nurses on the spine floor at Lancaster General Hospital were fantastic.”

When talking about her care and Dr. Hernandez, she gets emotional. 

“I was very confident in Dr. Hernandez. He came in to see me twice a day after surgery and gave me his email address and responded to my questions. I also felt very safe due to all the COVID-19 precautions taken at the hospital.”

A Goal Achieved

About two weeks after surgery, Amy was back to work on a half-day schedule. Her goal was to be ready to work the polls on November 3, Election Day. “I achieved that goal!” she says. 

Amy has some upcoming physical therapy sessions as part of her routine post-surgery plan, but is already enjoying life without pain.

“It’s amazing how freeing it feels!”

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