Back Pain - Virtua Spine and Brain Institute

Personal Story: A Little Luck and a Lot of Love

Richard Goatley, a retired military veteran from Southampton, NJ, was teaching heavy equipment mechanics at Burlington County Institute of Technology when previously treated back pain reappeared. And, it made every aspect of his life more difficult.

In November 2016, back pain that was relieved by anti-inflammatory medication, devolved quickly into heavy heating pad use that resulted in burns on his back. By December 31, 2016, he was crawling on the floor with agonizing pain. His wife, having experience with reconstructive orthopedics, made him an appointment with a specialist.

By luck, Richard landed in the office of James Sanfilippo, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Virtua Spine and Brain Institute. During the visit, they went over Richard’s medical history and made a plan to monitor his pain, while treating with pain medication. But, when Richard got off of the exam table holding onto his wife and almost fell from the pain, Dr. Sanfilippo quickly changed course. He wanted to admit Richard to the hospital immediately. However, Richard wanted to go home, and he did, with Dr. Greenleaf’s (the spine surgeon on-call) phone number in his pocket.

Two days later, Richard could only get around by laying on a blanket on the floor and having his wife pull him. It was clear that the wait-and-see approach wasn’t working out. They called Dr. Greenleaf, and he returned their call 10 minutes later and said to get to the ER.

Richard was skeptical about receiving care at Virtua Memorial in Mount Holly, and about anyone touching his back. But when Richard arrived at the ER the staff helped him manage his pain immediately, and he was in a room within an hour. Richard had back surgery on February 20, and he went from skeptic to loyal customer.

Ever since, Richard has been recommending Dr. Sanfilippo to others. “Everything [Dr. Sanfilippo] said was right on the money, and I have nothing but 100 percent respect for him,” he explains of his experience in the hospital.

His experience in the hospital itself was so far above and beyond what Richard was expecting that he wrote a letter of appreciation, calling out those who helped him most. “Kaitlynn Kernicky, was the first nurse I dealt with after being admitted,” he says. “I felt very reassured that I was in good hands during a particularly scary time. Dan Ciampo, made me feel that I was just as important as anyone else, giving me comfort on my first night. I have never seen anyone hustle as much as Ashley Benedetti did and be so pleasant at the same time. She never once stopped smiling while working hard and making me feel like I was her top priority. Debra Burns, made me feel like we were long-time friends.” He finished his letter with this: At 5:30 am I asked Francesca Bell if there was any coffee available. Instead of telling me I’d have to wait until the cafeteria opened, she said, ‘I couldn’t find coffee but how about hot tea?’ That made my morning, and I felt she really cared."

Now, Richard talks about his experiences with strangers, sometimes converting them into patients for Dr. Sanfilippo. And, in the coming months, Dr. Sanfilippo will perform the neck surgery that Richard has put off for 7 years.

Richard’s heating pad is gone (hopefully forever) and he’s back to his life.  He’s back to teaching and yardwork, and eating, and socializing, and enjoying life again.

Download the Virtua Health Guide to Back Pain, or call 856-246-4272 to request a consultation with a Virtua back pain specialist.

Updated August 12, 2020

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