The Better Way Back: Helping change lives by growing a patient community

At NuVasive, changing a patient’s life can be anything from developing the most innovative spine technologies to connecting patients in a supportive community to help demystify back pain. The Better Way Back is a NuVasive program dedicated to building a community that provides hope, support, and information to patients considering spine surgery.

Hear from Sheryl Hughes on what motivates her each day as she leads The Better Way Back and shares about the patient’s journey through spine surgery. Visit The Better Way Back website to learn more about the program and check out its new look.

What motivates you and the work you do with The Better Way Back (TBWB)?

SH: One of the things I appreciate most about NuVasive and TBWB is the recognition that chronic back pain reaches well beyond the physical—it extends to the emotional and psychological needs of the patient as well. As someone who has been a spine patient and personally worked through a dark, desperate place, I understand how critical it is to have a holistic approach to patient care that includes community support.

Despite all my soldiering and attempted exhibition of strength along my personal spine journey, I could not “go at it alone”. I needed people to lean on, love me, cheer me on, and stick by me in some of the lowest points throughout my surgery and recovery process. Those experiences and people forged the advocate I am today. As a tribute to those who listened, loved, and fought on my behalf, I have vowed to be a lover of people—someone who listens well and fiercely supports others wherever they are. My passion is to make a heart-connection with hurting people and offer them the same thing I was given—hope. My work with TBWB is the realization of a dream for me.

How does TBWB support NuVasive’s vision to “Change a patient’s life every minute”?

SH: TBWB is a wonderful example of how NuVasive’s vision to change a patient’s life every minute not only happens in the operating room, but through TBWB community support and education we offer. When the patient population becomes better educated about the ever-evolving treatment options in spine surgery, they are empowered to make better informed decisions about their care plan. When that is achieved, more people can be helped in a timely manner.

The Better Way Back community supporting the “walk” of a patient’s journey.

What is a common misconception about spine surgery that patients share with you?

SH: A common misconception almost every patient tells me are the “horror stories” about spine surgery they’ve heard from family, friends, or the internet. As a result, some patients wait as long as possible before agreeing to surgical treatment which unknowingly may lead to prolonged nerve damage and the possibility of a more difficult recovery down the road.

As much as we wish it, there is no pause button on spinal degeneration. When it comes to considering if or when to get spine surgery, one patient said it so well: “There is a delicate balance of waiting as long as necessary, then getting the surgery as soon as medically advised. I wish I had known that before I waited too long.”

Hear from Andy, a patient and member of The Better Way Back community, about his spine surgery journey.

What is a piece of advice for someone considering spine surgery?
SH: Understand what you’re facing—gain a working knowledge of your procedure, the anatomy that will be affected, and your projected recovery. Surround yourself with support and be your own advocate. Remember, your surgeon is a specialist in spine, but you are the only specialist on your body and needs. I really encourage patients to communicate openly so you and your surgeon—those two specialists—can work together to help create the best care plan for the best outcomes.

What would you tell someone who is considering engaging with TBWB?
SH: Do it! The power and impact of TBWB is really captured best in a recent conversation I had with a patient undergoing a laminectomy procedure:

“My change to a positive outlook [about my upcoming surgery] started with TBWB. Truly, I was in a ‘fear abyss’ when we first spoke. Since then, I’ve been telling everyone about your amazing organization! Such a vital resource! If I end up needing the fusion in the near future, I would be able to not only brave it now, but I want so much to be able to reach back to the other sojourners with any help I can offer.”

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