Personal Best

Originally printed in INOVA Magazine

Unparalleled spine care keeps talented athlete on the move

Last year, Leigh Neary achieved an impressive feat: She finished her division’s 2017 International Distance Lake Anna Triathlon. Her joy and pride — as well as the applause she received — were especially powerful considering a trauma she experienced just six months prior.

Back then, this 50-year-old Fairfax resident took a fall after tripping over an extension cord and then tumbling down three wooden steps on her back deck. She was left paralyzed on the ground for approximately 10 minutes. “It felt more like three years,” Leigh recalls. “I couldn’t feel or move my legs and I was terrified.”

Fast Action

Within minutes Leigh was headed to the Inova Fair Oaks Hospital (IFOH) Emergency Department (ED) via ambulance. En route, paramedics performed stabilizing procedures including putting her in a collar to stop any motion that might cause additional or permanent injury.

Leight received an immediate MRI scan of her neck that confirmed a bruised spinal cord. At that point she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit for further observation, pain management and consultations.

“Leigh still had pain and weakness when she was discharged three days later. It wouldn’t have been safe to put the spinal cord at risk with an immediate surgery, so everyone agreed to wait,” points out Donald Hope, MD, FACS, Neurosurgery Chief at IFOH. “After about a month, though, it became apparent that surgery was the best solution for Leigh’s specific case.”

A Stunning Finish

Dr. Hope performed what’s called an anterior cervical discectomy infusion, which involves surgically removing bone spurs in order to decompress the spinal cord. The surgeon describes Leigh’s recovery as “remarkable,” giving ample credit to his patient and his team, “Leigh is a talented athlete which greatly contributed to her success,” he says.” As for our spine team, we did what we do best. We brought our talents and experience together so Leigh had the best possible chance for a full recovery.”

Considering her triathlon accomplishment, it’s fair to say that Leigh is exceedingly pleased with her recovery. “The only thing I gave up is high heels,” she says.

Unsurpassed Expertise

The Inova Fair Oaks Hospital (IFOH) Spine Program, an integral part of the Inova Neuro-science and Spine Institute, brings patients world-class care and treatment for back pain, neck injury, spinal cord trauma and more. One of the Spine Program’s many benefits is the driving team concept, says Donald Hope, MD, Neurosurgery Chief at IFOH. “Our physicians, surgeons, nurses and technicians are trained with Inova Spine Institute to work through a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach. “In this way, the surgeon adds, Inova’s spine experts are able to share a wide range of back and neck pain treatment options and focus on the specific needs of each patient.

Learn more about spine conditions and Inova’s treatments at

Personal Best
Dr. Donald Hope