Two doctors at Sturdy Memorial Hospital performed the same spinal procedure on each other's mothers.
By Patrick Maguire
Being a doctor at Sturdy Memorial Hospital comes with the added benefit of always knowing someone who can help when a relative falls ill or is injured.
For Dr. Boris Shwartzman, that time came when his mother was complaining of back pain last fall. An expert himself, and realizing exactly what his mother needed, he turned to his partner Dr. Do Chan. He did not know that his partner would be turning to him just a few months later.
"My choice was either do it myself or have my partner do it," Shwartzman said. "We’re the only two that do it here in the hospital."
Shwartzman asked Chan to perform a procedure called Balloon Kyphoplasty on his mother, Slava Schwartzman. The 76-year-old slipped and fell in the days prior.
The seasoned doctor knew right away that his mother had a spinal fracture.
"There’s a few key words that I hear my patients describing their pain that trigger a certain response so I suspected immediately that she had a fracture," he said. "She’s a fragile old lady and I know she is someone who is likely to have that."
The procedure involves creating a cavity inside the spine, then filling the cavity with cement to act as a buffer between bones. While one slip-up in the procedure could clearly have disastrous results, both doctors described it as "simple."
For Chan, though, the added stress of operating on a close colleague's mother was difficult. "You don’t operate on your own family members," he said. "You’d probably be too stressed and it wouldn’t work. Even that, knowing it was his mom, I was a little bit stressed. It’s one of those things – once you start, you don’t really think that much about it – it’s just getting it done."
Slava Schwartzman was pain-free and cured within days of the procedure, her son said.
For him, it was a relief - but before he got a chance to take a breath, Chan was asking him to return the favor.
"I was shocked because the coincidence is quite amazing," Shwartzman said. "Also, she’s much younger so it’s a rare occasion to be operating on someone that age."
Chan's 61-year-old mother, Cindy, fell while participating in a work-out class at the gym. After going to the emergency room and consulting with her primary care doctor, the cause for her back pain became clear to her son.
"Within the first few days, she was in a lot of pain, which I expected," Chan said. "But, as it dragged on by one week, she couldn’t get out of bed and this is someone who is very active normally – going to the gym and exercising a lot so I knew something wasn’t right."
Sure enough, Chan's mother had the same ailment that sidelined Shwartzman's mother - a spinal fracture.
A Balloon Kyphoplasty was in order.
"I could have had her go to Rhode Island Hospital," Chan said. "There are some people that do it there. But, I know my colleague does them so we’re the only two that do all of them so why have her go to Rhode Island Hospital where I don’t know any of the physicians and she could have come her. I just had her set up to come here."
He said that at the time, neither doctor thought much of the major coincidence associated with both of their mother's operations.
For Chan, it was just nice to know his mother was being taken care of.
"It’s nice to know the physician that’s doing it," he said.
Cindy Chan, like Slava Schwartzman, was back in action within a few days.
"Immediately after the surgery within a couple of days she was out and about and almost back to her norm," Chan said. "I think within like three or four weeks she was back to the gym again."
Chan said spinal fractures are generally a result of osteoporosis. He said that almost 2 million fractures were a result of the disease in the year 2005.
For spinal fractures in particular, balloon kyphoplasty is a relatively new procedure.
"Back in the day, if you had this fracture, you bear with it and take pain medications and hopefully you get better in 3-6 months or more," Chan said. "There was nothing that could be done for it. Now with this, you can get instantaneous pain relief and it stabilizes the fracture. We are getting the word out. It’s becoming more known."
For the two doctors, performing the same procedure on each others mothers brought them closer together. The two were already close friends and partners.
"Obviously that occurrence and all - that was another layer," Shwartzman said. "We’re very close."Link to this Article