Amy Meredith knows how to drive a compact excavator. She helped lay pipe for septic tank systems. She inspected hosiery as a factory worker – “one of my favorite jobs” – served customers as a waitress and bartender, and cleaned homes.

The High Point native, 52, has never shied away from physical labor. She and her husband, Ray, developed a successful landscaping business; she enjoyed sowing grass and planting shrubbery. They raised a daughter, Jeannie Rae, who built a thriving hairstyling business of her own.

Amy's energy didn’t flag until a pain in her back and legs started about six years ago. By the onset of the pandemic, she had to use a cane. Her condition deteriorated gradually until she couldn’t get around without a wheelchair.

Michaux Kilpatrick
Dr. Michaux Kilpatrick

Amy despaired she might never walk again. Then she met Dr. Michaux Kilpatrick, a neurosurgeon with Novant Health Brain & Spine Surgery - Kernersville, along with specialists at Novant Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine - Kernersville.

It took Kilpatrick and colleagues in neurosurgery, orthopedics and pain management, combined with Amy's fighting spirit, to uncover the source of her ailments and prevent her from needing a nursing home.

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Two family losses in 6 months

Amy faced an especially difficult year during the pandemic. She spent much of her time helping her mom take care of her dad, who lived with congestive heart failure. Amy handled tasks like moving her father from the bed to a wheelchair, which took a toll on her back. Her dad passed away in May 2020.

amy m and husband
Amy and Ray Meredith built a successful landscaping business, but she lost him in 2020 after diabetes and a massive stroke took their toll.

Meanwhile, Ray struggled with diabetes and a massive stroke. “His body just wore down, from a very attractive, muscular man to a skeleton,” Amy said. He died in October 2020.

During this painful time, Amy kept trying to find reasons to keep going but knew all was not well with her own health. She had trouble lifting her left foot and dragged it when she walked. She had depended on the landscaping business for income, but when Ray died, she wasn’t able to keep it going. “I lost everything,” she said.

She had always wanted “a big ole Cadillac,” she said affectionately. Ray had purchased one for her, but following his death and the loss of the business, she couldn’t make the payments. “They came and took it away.”

The losses mounted: She sold her furniture. When she didn’t have funds to pay the rent, she lost her home. She had to move in with her best friend as she sought treatment for her back and legs.

A doctor's sharp eye

Multiple doctors with other hospital systems gave her steroid and spinal injections, she said, but nothing worked. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of her lower back were inconclusive.

By August 2022, when she was referred to Kilpatrick, she was using a wheelchair and had difficulty managing basic activities on her own. “My 80-year-old mom was making me coffee, helping me with my laundry,” Amy recounted, tearing up at the thought.

At Novant Health, doctors tried a different tactic. The spinal cord starts at the base of the skull and usually ends above the waist. Only a small section of the spinal cord is visible on an MRI of the lower back. They took MRI scans higher up, focusing on the thoracic spine in the middle of her back.

Kilpatrick took one look at the scans and saw the spinal cord was being compressed. The swelling suggested a significant spinal cord injury.

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Patients often assume if they have pain, numbness, or weakness in their legs, the problem is in their lower back. That’s not always true, Kilpatrick said. "The nerves in your lower spine go to your legs, but the spinal cord also controls the legs.” Amy's problem was with her spinal cord, not her nerves. The diagnosis was myelopathy or damage to the spinal cord.

Kilpatrick believed her spine had deteriorated over time. It was a chronic issue rather than a trauma like a car accident. Her lifetime of physical labor could have contributed. “Increased wear and tear on your spine can cause these degenerative changes to accelerate,” Kilpatrick said.

Surgery would open up the space around the spinal cord, giving it more room and relieving the pressure. The goal was to prevent Amy's condition from getting worse. There was no guarantee she would walk afterward. “Spinal cord injuries are notorious for being irreversible, especially if it’s been going on for a while,” Kilpatrick said. They would have to wait and see how her body responded.

Praise for her team

Dr. David O'Toole
Dr. David O'Toole

Amy was devastated. Why pursue surgery if it wouldn’t necessarily bring back her ability to walk? She wasn’t sure it was worth it. Kilpatrick referred her to Dr. David O’Toole, a specialist in pain management who helped lessen her pain and encouraged her to proceed with the surgery.

She ultimately agreed in November 2022. In the immediate days post-surgery, she could already tell “that nagging, aching, constant pain that I tried to express to everyone so many times” in her legs was gone.

She stayed for several weeks at Novant Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Winston-Salem to receive intensive physical and occupational therapy. Even with demanding therapy three times a day to recover fundamental skills, she said she loved being there. “They have a way to do things without making you feel embarrassed.”

Dr. Slade Moore

Her strength was returning. She could stand and walk again with assistance. What hurt now was her hips. In February 2023, Dr. Slade Moore, an orthopedic surgeon, diagnosed avascular necrosis. This condition occurs when the hip bone lacks adequate blood supply, causing the bone structures in and around the hip to die and the joint to collapse. The pain can be severe. Amy would need a double hip replacement.

At this stage, sadness and fury would be understandable reactions. But Amy had seen the value of the first surgery. Her sentiment this time? Let’s do this. She found comfort that Moore had performed her mom’s knee replacement surgery years ago.

Moore gave her a new right hip in February and a left one in May. She spent two more stints at the rehabilitation hospital. By the end of her final stay, she could leave on her own power without searing pain in her hips. There was another life-changing benefit. Amy's condition had caused her to experience bladder and bowel incontinence. After the third surgery, that terrible challenge was gone.

“If not for Dr. Kilpatrick, I would be a paraplegic in a rest home,” Amy believes. “The whole staff totally changed my life.”

For her part, Kilpatrick credits Novant Health’s team approach for the successful treatment, with neurology, neurosurgery, orthopedics and pain management all under one roof. The setting lends itself to multi-disciplinary consultations and close relationships among colleagues.

It’s a joy for Amy to go out to dinner now with family or friends. She uses a cane for support only in crowded areas. Even being able to handle simple tasks like the laundry feels like a blessing. She hopes to return to work one day in a position where she can help others.

For now, she urges people facing health challenges not to give up hope and keep fighting. “Even if things look so dark,” she said, “there can be another side.”