John Higgins was amazed when he met the neurointerventional radiologist who treated him for a painful fracture of the sacrum. It was the same doctor who had treated his mother several years earlier.

An active octogenarian, John Higgins walked up to four miles a day to stay fit. But one night last winter, he slipped on a sheet of ice. “I went down and hit my hip,” he says. He remembers the agony he felt on both sides and across the middle of his back. “I couldn’t take a step without excruciating pain. There was nothing I could do.”

When the pain did not abate, Mr. Higgins met with his long-time primary care physician, John Goodson, MD, who coordinated a collaborative approach to care that eventually led to the diagnosis of a complicated fracture of the sacrum and a referral to the Mass General Center for Pain Medicine. After medication provided little relief, pain specialist Shihab Ahmed, MD, then referred him to neurointerventional radiologist Joshua Hirsch, MD at the NeuroInterventional Spine Program in the Department of Radiology. Mr. Higgins recognized Dr. Hirsch right away. “When he first walked into the room, I couldn’t believe I was meeting the same doctor who changed my mother’s life,” he says.

After the procedure I felt really good. I was shocked.

John Higgins
Neurointerventional Patient

Several years earlier, Mr. Higgins' 99-year-old mother Mary Higgins was admitted to Mass General with osteoporotic fractures in her vertebrae. The pain was uncontrollable, confining her to her hospital bed. Dr. Goodson, her primary care physician, also organized her care to include Dr. Hirsch who performed a minimally invasive, image-guided procedure called a vertebroplasty to stabilize the fractures and remove the pressure that was agitating the spinal nerves.

John Higgins and Dr. Joshua Hirsch
John Higgins and Dr. Joshua Hirsch

"Patients with fractures like Mr. Higgins and his mother often come to us with this type of pain, and it impacts their ability to do day-to-day activities," says Marion Growney, a nurse practitioner in the NeuroInterventional Spine Program. "Thankfully, we were able to offer them both an option to bring back their vibrant quality of life."

Like his mother, Mr. Higgins’ fracture caused debilitating pain. He couldn’t sit, stand, or lie down comfortably. In a procedure similar to the one he performed on Mr. Higgins’ mother, Dr. Hirsch used image guidance to inject medical cement into one of the fractures.

"The cement acts like an internal cast," Ms. Growney explains. "It aligns the bones, and decreases the pain."

"After the procedure I felt really good," Mr. Higgins says. "I was shocked." He exercises regularly as part of a rehabilitation program while he continues to improve under Dr. Goodson's care.

"It took me a long time to get back to activities," he adds. "Even though I still have have a little trouble going up and down stairs, I hope I’ll be back to normal with continued rehabilitation."