“I Began To Feel Like Myself"

Kaylie Jones, 58, is a veritable fount of energy. An author of five books, a graduate school professor in two MFA writing programs, and the owner of an independent literary imprint, she seems to do it all. When she’s not at home in New York City, she’s training in martial arts in Southeast Asia — she’s as powerful in the boxing ring as she is with a pen. To date, the only takedown she suffered was from spinal stenosis. But with help from Dr. Kai-Ming Fu, she’s back in the ring doing what she loves.

Prior to being diagnosed, Kaylie went to mixed martial arts classes five days a week. She has a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo and MMA and studied Shaolin Kung Fu in China with her daughter for a month every day in summer of 2013. After hours perfecting her punches, she edited manuscripts and wrote 10 hours a day. Her productivity slowed when she developed a severe pain in her neck. “At first I thought I’d pulled a muscle while boxing,” she remembers.

This was no muscle sprain. The pain started to shoot down her arms; her left side felt worse than the right, and her arms and hands felt a tingling and burning sensation. She gradually started to drop things and, as she recalls, “my fingers felt like sausages — I couldn’t feel my fingertips at all.”

Unable to work, Kaylie sought an orthopedic specialist, who ordered imaging and diagnosed spinal stenosis — a condition in which open spaces in the spine become narrowed, which causes pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves of the spine.

The location of the stenosis determines whether the patient feels pain, weakness, numbness, or even bowel and bladder problems. Symptoms begin gradually and worsen over time. In Kaylie’s case, the nerves in her vertebrae had become severely damaged by the swelling. The doctor she saw recommended immediate surgery, but Kaylie refused to consider it.

Without surgery, her only recourse was to manage the pain. Her doctor prescribed cortisone injections, which caused Kaylie to gain 30 pounds. Though she felt some relief, the burning and tingling sensation only intensified. She couldn’t write and couldn’t practice her martial arts. “I couldn’t sit at my computer for more than a half hour without discomfort,” she recalls. “I couldn’t even carry anything because I would drop everything.” Her doctor administered a nerve damage test, which led Kaylie to speak to a neurosurgeon about surgery.

Kaylie Jones

“I’m not someone who goes into surgery lightly,” Kaylie says, “I did a good deal of research!” She learned that in some hospitals, the surgery called for an orthopedic surgeon with a neurosurgeon standing by, which troubled her. “I was a single mother and terribly concerned about leaving my teenage daughter with no one to look after her,” she says.

Her diligent research led her to Dr. Fu, who ticked both boxes: “He’s a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic surgeon,” she says. “He holds a PhD as well!”   

 “I appreciated Kaylie’s confidence in me!” laughs Dr. Fu, “I emphasized that this surgery would be entirely up to her.” Kaylie remembers Dr. Fu and his staff with great fondness. “From Jude, who answered the phone, to Amanda Fazio, Dr. Fu’s nurse practitioner — they were all great and would call me back immediately.” She found someone she could trust and scheduled the surgery as soon as possible.

The day Kaylie went in for surgery at Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, she says she was terrified. Her best friend Dayle kept her company. “She made me laugh, and I calmed down,” she says. Best of all, she found great comfort in Dr. Fu, who exuded confidence. “I could see this was his arena,” Kaylie says. “This was where he felt the most comfortable and in control. I knew I had made the right decision in choosing Dr. Fu.”

Kaylie felt the difference immediately when she awoke from the surgery. “I could feel my hands!” she exclaims. Of course, she still had some recovering to do.

Emboldened by the confidence of having her hands back, Kaylie faced the emotional and physical obstacles of post-surgical life. At times she felt broken, and the pain would occasionally rear its head, but she kept positive. She reached out to Dr. Fu’s nurse practitioner, Amanda Fazio, who said, “Nerves take a long time to heal, which explains the sudden resurgences of pain.”

Kaylie underwent physical therapy, and at Dr. Fu’s suggestion, another type of “internal” martial art — tai chi. Tai chi is a graceful form of exercise performed through gentle, flowing movement. “I began to find my balance,” Kaylie remembers, “and my ability to perform martial arts returned. I began to feel like myself.”

Kaylie Jones with her daughter Eyrna

Kaylie Jones with her daughter Eyrna

Two years after the surgery, Kaylie’s daughter invited her to a Muay Thai kickboxing camp in Thailand. Still not feeling ready, Kaylie declined. But her daughter was persistent, reminding her that Dr. Fu had said she could try it. This time, she relented. Their trainer, Padu, did one-on-one training with her every day and he helped her go at her own pace. To her delight, her pain was now limited to familiar muscle pain — no more nerve pain. Now back to kickboxing, she’s ramping up to get back to her old self again.

To anyone who’s considering surgery, Kaylie says that recovery can be slow, and that pain medication may be necessary. However, it’s a small tradeoff — “I have been able to return to the practice I love most in the world, and have completely regained my strength and my stamina,” she beams. “I am the old me again, and I feel years younger than I did before the surgery!” 

More about Dr. Kai-Ming Fu  |  More about Spine Surgery

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787