MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Robin Brunnquell slipped and fell during the Christmas holiday of 2013 in what she describes as a “Charlie Brown” fall. She had a vertebral compression fracture. The treatment caused multiple complications. She was put in a brace that inhibited her breathing. On top of that, she developed pneumonia. So Brunnquell placed her hopes on a Milwaukee doctor — and a new procedure.
Brunnquell is affectionately known as “The Bionic Woman.”
Simple things — like playing with her dog and her new grandson would have been impossible just months ago.
It has been a long journey to get Brunnquell to where she is now.
It all started back in 2007.
Brunnquell started having trouble breathing. She was treated for asthma with the steroid prednisone — but she only got sicker.
“Because of the prednisone, I had a side effect called avascular necrosis. It’s bone death. Blood supply to the bone gets impaired. Your weight- bearing joints die. They kind of just rot within. I lost both hips and both shoulders to avascular necrosis,” Brunnquell said.
As it turned out, Brunnquell didn’t have asthma at all.
“I had airway collapse. It’s called tracheomalacia — very uncommon in an adult. What should be rigid in your airway is not. It’s floppy and your whole airway collapses. So once they figured that out and started weaning back the prednisone and they fixed my joints, little by little I’ve come back,” Brunnquell said.
But in the process, Brunnquell contracted MERSA — which caused so much deterioration her surgeon had to improvise with a MacGyver-like joint prosthetic in her shoulder — but it works!
There’s plenty of artificial material in the petite woman’s body!
Doctors fixed fractures caused by her brittle bones (osteoporosis) — which was a result of the prednisone.
She had both hips replaced — both shoulders replaced, and a screw put into her foot.
Then came another blow — during the Christmas holiday of 2013.
“This Christmas I slipped and fell — kinda did a Charlie Brown fall. I knew I broke my back. After six weeks of wearing a brace that inhibited my breathing — it was hard, causing pneumonia,” Brunnquell said.
Dr. Sean Tutton, a radiologist with Froedtert Hospital fixed her up with Brunnquell broke her pelvis — and they would meet again.
Brunnquell had suffered a vertebral compression fracture — and if there could be such a thing as “perfect timing” for Brunnquell to break her back — this was it!
The FDA had just cleared a procedure that had been in a clinical trial — and Dr. Tutton just happened to serve as the lead investigator.
“Essentially in about a 45-50 minute procedure with a small puncture in her skin, no incision, we were able to deliver this implant into the vertebral body and stabilize the fracture — just like you would stabilize a fracture in your wrist, but we’re doing it inside the vertebral body. Then, inject a little bit of a medical cement in there to lock that implant in and then she recovers for an hour and goes home,” Dr. Tutton explained.
It’s called the Kiva Method.
Dr. Tutton’s study compared the Kiva Method to a method most commonly used — the balloon kyphoplasty.
That procedure involves orthopaedic balloons used to lift the fractured bone and return it to the correct position.
About a week after the Kiva procedure, Brunnquell showed up at Dr. Tutton’s office.
“I bent down and touched the ground and came back up and he said ‘wow! Can you do it again?’ And I said ‘yep!’” Brunnquell said.
Dr. Tutton says timing is everything. There is about a two-week window for patients to get this treatment.
“My mission has been to treat these people early — so they don’t get debilitated and they don’t lose their independence,” Brunnquell said.
Now, Brunnquell — a former nurse, is paying it forward.
She is working on a scooter/wheelchair that will give its users more mobility. She has also developed a trachea device that allows the wearer to talk without having to cover the tube in their neck with their hand.
“I ended up with a procedure that didn’t hurt me and changed my life. You know, I just can’t say thanks enough,” Brunnquell said.
Because the Kiva Method isn’t used a lot yet — some doctors may not even know about it.
If you think this treatment could be right for you — you’re encouraged to mention it to your doctor.