Local News

Retired Gen. Shelton To Have Surgery After Fall

Posted April 12, 2002

— North Carolina native and retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton is still in the hospital after he fell from a ladder last month. In the next two weeks, Shelton will have surgery to try and speed his recovery.

Doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington said Ret. Army General Hugh Shelton's condition improves weekly. Shelton has a spinal injury that has affected the use of his arms and legs.

Dr. William Lestini, a Raleigh orthopedic surgeon, said because of the symptoms, it is likely Shelton suffered a fracture or some sort of dislocation in the neck, which injured his spinal cord.

To ease the pressure on Shelton's spine, surgeons will perform a procedure called a multilevel laminectomy. The lamina make up the bony bridge that surrounds and protects the spinal cord.

Removing several lamina opens the area around the cord relieving pressure. Surgeons then fuse bone grafts around the spine to stabilize it. Dr. Lestini performs the same surgery on many patients in the Triangle. Most of those injuries are from wear and tear, not trauma.

"Most of the time, they are being done for degenerative conditions. The discs have worn out and they become unstable from wear and tear," Lestini said.

After surgery, rehabilitation is the next step to recovery. During the rehab process, the muscles around the spine are reconditioned. It usually takes around three to six months or longer depending on the severity of the injury and the person's health before the injury.

Dr. Lestini said the weakness in Shelton's arms may linger for months, but considering Shelton's level of fitness and history of success, odds are he will recover.

"If anyone can get better from this, I think Gen. Shelton can," Lestini said.

More than a million people are hurt this way each year. Doctors describe Shelton's injury as an incomplete, meaning the spinal cord is injured but still intake. A complete injury means the cord has been severed, which leads to paralysis such as what happened to actor Christopher Reeve.

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