Back in Motion
Thanks to the Dean Stroud Spine and Pain Institute at Shepherd Center, Sybil Williams is on the go again.
Sybil Williams made a day trip to Dollywood a few months back, driving up from Young Harris, Georgia, with her daughters and granddaughter.
A typical fall outing for many, the day was monumental for Sybil, who has battled chronic spinal pain for decades.
“To get out, enjoy the day, and come home the right amount of happily worn out,” she says, “I can’t tell you how good that felt.”
Sybil’s issues began with a back injury in 1993. Numerous operations followed, including two spinal fusion surgeries. Treatments provided relief at times but were too often followed by complications, eventually requiring Sybil to transition away from direct patient care as a nurse. Along the way, she had to step back from her role as a bedside nurse and move into a management position.
“I lost my ability to directly serve and care for people,” Sybil says. “I’m not the kind of person to focus on myself first, so that really bothered me.”
But she couldn’t ignore away the pain. By early 2020, it had again immobilized her to the point that she was essentially homebound. That’s when she first visited Shepherd Center and met Erik Shaw, D.O., medical director of the Dean Stroud Spine and Pain Institute.
“He was so kind,” Sybil says. “He told me, ‘We’re going to work until we narrow down the root of all this.’ I really felt like he took a personal interest in what was going on with me. Even between visits, he would check in on me.”
Dr. Shaw identified Sybil’s cluneal nerves (sensory nerves in the lower back) as the primary culprit. Peripheral nerve blocks helped, as did radiofrequency ablations. The biggest breakthrough came when Dr. Shaw ordered Sybil a four-day trial of a peripheral nerve stimulator he thought might provide significant relief.
“I could not believe the results,” Sybil says. “I told him, ‘You can’t take it out!’ It was that profound a difference.”
Thankfully, Sybil received a permanent implant late last summer.
“It’s been a blessing ever since,” she says. “I’ve got my life back. My quality of life back.”
Before she arrived at Shepherd Center, Sybil was taking three to four doses of pain medication a day. Now, that’s down to two or three a week. Her mobility has improved dramatically, too. She’s driving again and walking up to 4,000 steps a day.
Above all, Sybil is thankful for more quality time with her daughters and granddaughter.
When Sybil’s older daughter, Jacqueline, was 20, Sybil and her late husband, Terry, fostered a child they eventually adopted, Gabriella. Today, Gabby is in college. Meanwhile, Jacqueline followed in her mother’s footsteps — both as a healthcare professional and as a mom who adopted her own daughter, Elizabeth, now 10. All three generations of Williams women live together.
“We’re different from your typical family,” Sybil says. “And I think that’s what makes us so close.”
Sybil now picks up Elizabeth from school each day, and they both look forward to Gabby’s visits home from college. Weekends often include popcorn and movie nights — a Marvel movie if Elizabeth is picking. And they’re planning their first family vacation in forever this year, hopefully to Yellowstone.
“I’ve told Dr. Shaw this,” Sybil says. “He didn’t just make a huge difference in my life. He made a huge difference in my family’s life. And that means the world.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
Pursuing Possible with Shepherd Center
To support patient stories like this one, please consider contributing to Shepherd Center's Pursuing Possible campaign.
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.