Surgical breakthrough saves Billie
ALPHA’S Billie Dodge has been to hell and back.
At the height of her pain she could not walk or complete the simplest of tasks without help.
The journey that took the Alpha resident to the depths of misery and anguish began 25 years ago, when she was hit by a car in Sydney. But Billie had no idea about the ticking time bomb that lay in her lower back at the time.
What followed was a series of freak accidents that eventually led to Billie completely shattering a vertebrae in her lower back. It took another five months for her doctors to piece together what had happened.
“I wasn’t living, walking was absolute agony and it was impossible to do anything,” Billie said.
“The pain just started to take over and it got progressively worse, very fast.”
Billie flew to Brisbane in March 2010 for what she thought would be the start of a long recovery. After two failed operations, she was left penniless, depressed and helpless.
“It took absolutely everything out of me - I was in a body brace for 12 weeks and after just one, I knew the operation had failed,” she said.
“I was depressed, deflated and let down.
“I lost 12 kilos in just over three weeks and succumbed to a complete loss of hope.
“I couldn’t walk and needed constant help. I had no appetite and my muscles were withering away. The pain was unbearable - it was a desperate situation.”
After a short stint with her sister in Hervey Bay, the pain finally got too much and she was airlifted to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital in a dire state.
She met RBWH orthopaedic surgeon Professor Pamela McCombe who would become Billie’s “hero”.
“She decided that she would help me and sent my MRI to the USA, where she had heard there was a company performing groundbreaking work with small spinal implants,” Billie said.
That company was Medtronic, which designed an implant for Billie that was the first of its kind. In preparation for the pioneering surgery, doctors removed everything from her lower back, leaving her with no support at all. No-one had ever placed an implant between two vertebrae, and the 12-hour operation required Billie to be in ICU for two days and involved 16 surgeons.
“The physios got me up two and a half days after the operation and there was no pain whatsoever,” Billie said.
“The first time I saw myself in the mirror I burst into tears - I had never seen my back that straight. I looked like I was supposed to.
“I was crying 75% of the time leading up to surgery so none of the doctors had ever seen me so happy.
“I can’t express the elation - I thought I would never come home and I was back and out of rehab within a week.”
Billie was back at work with Scripture Union, which supplies chaplains to schools, in December and said she hasn’t stopped moving since.
“I’ve got the spring back in my step.”