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Fayette County woman has epidural needle removed from spine after 20 years

Amy Garrison sits at her dining room table a few days before undergoing her surgery. An epidural needle was stuck in her spine while she was giving birth to her son in 2003, and it was removed on July 17 at Barnes Jewish Hospital. Photo by Leah Williams.

Story by Leah Williams

For nearly 20 years, Amy Garrison has had to live with something that has caused her pain

Garrison, who now lives in rural Brownstown, had a complication when her youngest son was born and has been living with the consequences ever since.

Jacob was born at a naval hospital in 2003, and during the delivery, a part of an epidural needle became stuck in Garrison’s spine. That medical mistake has dictated much of how Garrison has lived her life ever since.

“God has me in his pocket, and he has me carried around. Things happen for a reason. I just know,” she said. “No one has ever had a needle removed out of a spine before.”

On July 17, Garrison underwent surgery at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in hopes of finding out what could happen if the needle was no longer there.

‘Something is wrong’

Garrison gave birth to her third child, a boy, on Sept. 5, 2003, at Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, FL. Just like her previous pregnancies, she was scheduled for an epidural to help with the pain.

She said she knew right away that something was wrong.

“How I knew it was him was that the only thing numb was my left leg,” she said. “And everything is attached to my leg. It was unsuccessful. I was not put all the way out. I could feel the cutting and staples, even in my paralyzed fate.”

This provided photo shows the portion of the epidural needle that became stuck in Amy Garrison’s spine in 2003.

The medical records from the birth indicate that the anesthesia did not take but they also state that all of the needles were accounted for.

Garrison said she kept complaining that her sciatica was burning more than usual and that something did not seem right. But the doctor kept

“He told me if I continued to hurt that he would give me a cortisone shot,” she said.

Sealed fate

Garrison was not sure what exactly had happened until several years later. After a CAT scan in 2017 to see what had been causing her chronic back problems. The results confirmed that the epidural needle had been lodged in her spine since 2003.

Garrison filed a lawsuit as soon as she found out, and the story made national headlnes. The suit claimed that she was never told about the mistake and that the hospital went to great lengths to cover it up. Spinal needles are typically 7 to 9 centimeters long, and the part that was stuck was believed to be about 3 centimeters or 1 inch in length.

“They knew what they did,” attorney Sean Cronin told the Florida Times-Union in 2018. “They thought they would get in trouble so they elected not to tell the family and not to tell anyone in the chain of command because they did not want to get in trouble.”

The lawsuit made national headlines. Despite the evidence, the lawsuit was dismissed due to the statute of repose, which cuts off certain legal rights if they are not acted by a certain time. Florida’s rule states that unless there is a healthcare provider cannot be sued for medical malpractice more than four years after the actual incident.

“We fought and fought and fought,” Garrison said. “And just to throw it out and decide my fate. We have insurance, but still the out-of-pocket is like $7,000.”

A second family and a strong support system

Looking for work, Garrison decided on a whim to apply for a position at Sarah Bush Lincoln Fayette County Hospital. She had worked as an emergency room secretary in her 20s

She started working in the occupational medicine department of the hospital last July. Now those coworkers are like a second family.

Lucas Emerick, a registered nurse in occupational medicine, was one of the ones who helped encourage her to seek what else could be out there.

“I told her that there had been so much more advances since then,” he said.

“She is the sweetest,” Sharon Draper, a retired nurse practitioner who works with Garrison at occupational medicine, said of her coworker. “You can’t say a bad thing about her. Any patient that comes in who might be anxious, she makes them feel like they are the only one there.”

At home, she also has a strong support system.

Keith and Amy Garrison on their front porch in rural Brownstown

“She is a wonderful person,” her husband Keith Garrison said. “I care for her very much. I hope it is successful so that she isn’t suffering anymore.”

It was those encouraging words from work family members and the love and support that she felt at home that helped Garrison take that leap of faith.

“I would have never gotten this done without them,” she said. “They are my family.”

The procedure was set to be an 11-hour surgery, and, with all major surgeries, there comes risks including paralysis.

“I’m really scared,” Garrison said a few days before the procedure. “But I have to know.”

Road to recovery

Amy Garrison on the day of her surgery and right, the epidural needle as compared to a Chaptstick. Provided Photos.

Garrison said she was the first candidate to have a scope remove something from the spine, and the needle that had been lodged in her back for more than 7,250 days was out and placed into a plastic container marked “gross – hardware.”

Now two weeks post-op, she continues to experience some pain and numbness on the left side of her body. She likens the numbness on her knee to a very sensitive sunburn, sensitive to the touch.

She walks with the help of a walker or a cane when she is out in public, and has therapy a couple times a week to focus on stretching, along with other appointments and checkups on her recovery.

It’s kind of like tooth pain, she says. You can’t predict good or bad days.

Garrison said she had to psyche herself up to agree to the surgery, hoping for the best.

You had to. You had to be like I’m going to walk out of this,” she said. “You have to do that to yourself and you end up being disappointed because that is not what happened. It’s not fair because it’s not even something that I had chosen for my life.”

Garrion said she is trying to take her progress one day at a time.

“I want to make a full recovery,” she said. “But let’s be honest: these are nerves and they take forever to do their thing. I know it’s just going to be an uphill battle for me. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to hurt. But I’m hoping in the long run it won’t be such a long recovery.

“I am fighting this, and I tell myself I will make a full recovery even if I don’t.”

Garrison said she hopes that her story will inspire others to always be their own advocate and to not lose their voice when they think something might be wrong.

“You need to advocate for yourself. That is what I’m doing,” she said.  “If it happened to me it could happen to other people. Not just the spinal needle. Keep going until something is done. Don’t let them say it is just this or just that. Maybe it’s not.”