I want to begin today by apologizing for having disappeared for a while. My disappearance wasn’t by choice, but sharing my story does give me the opportunity to celebrate NASA, and everything it has accomplished over the last several decades.
So, for any one who is curious, here’s the story of my spring and summer…
I was going about my day to day business, and enthusiastically planning my summer programs (which were going to be really great, by the way), when I woke up bright and early one day, sat up, put my feet on the floor to stand up, and crashed into the floor. That was completely unexpected, but what was worse was that I couldn’t move my legs to stand up. That was the beginning of a very long and not-so-fun couple of months. I fell several more times that day before I could get a ride to the doctor.
My poor doctor examined me, took x-rays, and quickly determined that whatever was going on was beyond his expertise. He wanted me to see a neurologist that day, preferably that hour. (I really like my doctor!) Despite his best efforts, no neurologist had openings any time in the near future. He sent me home with orders to stay in my house and off my feet as much as possible, to avoid getting hurt by falling. He would be in touch.
Sure enough, he got one of his friends, who happens to be a neurological surgeon, to work me in as soon as he could. To make a long story short, after examinations, x-rays, MRI’s, and body scans, my problem became obvious. I had two ruptured lumbar disks and a condition called Spondylolisthesis (I haven’t figured out how to pronounce it, either.), in which a vertebra slips out of alignment with the rest of the spine. By happenstance, the jelly-like substance that is supposed to stay inside the spinal disks had escaped in such a way that, combined with the spondylolisthesis, the nerves to my leg were being compressed, and not able to communicate with my brain anymore. Every time my brain and leg lost connection, I fell.
The only solution to this situation was spinal surgery. So, I reported to the hospital in July to get my back fixed with a spinal fusion. Now I will be home-bound until October while my spine heals around the pins and rods inserted to hold my vertebra in place. You really don’t think about how much you use your spine until you have to spend 8 weeks not moving your back – no bending, twisting, lifting, pulling, stretching, going up or down stairs, exercising in any way, etc. That also includes housework, which has its pros and cons…
Now I’ve haven’t shared this story because I am looking for sympathy in any way. Quite the contrary. I am incredibly grateful that because of NASA, doctors were able to determine what was wrong with me, and fix it.
What better way is there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 with NASA than to thank all the people who have participated in NASA research and advancements over the decades, that allowed humans to walk on the Moon, and a surgeon to see inside my body and then surgically repair my spine and allow me to walk again?
What does NASA have to do with spinal fusion? Let me make a list!
- The On-Cue software that controls scheduling for scientific use of the Hubble Telescope is also used in hospitals for dynamic rescheduling for departments such as radiology, allowing for better efficiency in testing, such as x-rays, MRI’s, and body scans.
- NASA created ethylene scrubber technology virtually eliminates all airborne contagions, and is used to clean the air in clinics, waiting rooms, neonatal units, and operating rooms.
- NASA Crew Resource Management (CRM) training has been adapted to the medical field, improving teamwork and efficiency in operating rooms, and other departments of hospitals, which has dramatically increased operating room turn-around, and just as dramatically reduced post operative infection and mortality.
- NASA developed technology that allows near real-time transmission of diagnostic quality images and video, allowing the doctor to receive the images and video of the tests done in the hospital immediately.
- Hierarchical Segmentation (HSEG) software, originally created at Goddard Space Flight Center, has been adapted to process, analyze, and manipulate medical imagery, including x-rays.
- NASA research has led to superconductors that make MRI’s more efficient and less expensive.
- Robotic arms and other aids are used in surgery for inserting titanium implants.
- Atomic Oxygen, a gas that corrodes spacecraft in orbit, is used to decontaminate orthopedic surgical implants prior to surgery.
- NASA research on the loss of bone density among astronauts in space has led to both new ways of testing bone density for those at risk of developing osteoporosis, and treatments for those who already have the condition.
This is just a short list of the benefits NASA has offered the world. Since it’s creation in 1958, NASA has contributed in one way or another to countless discoveries, innovations, technologies, and inventions. Due to public interest and inquiry, in 1976 NASA began a publication highlighting spinoff’s. Since then, over 2000 profiles have appeared in the annual publication, NASA Spinoff. Just in the medical and health fields alone, there have been over 250!
Thank you NASA for everything you do for the people of Earth!!
Looking for more? Check out these links:
NASA Spinoff: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2019/index.html
NASA Technologies Enhance Our Lives: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/pdf/HM_bro_web.pdf
Information Week: https://www.informationweek.com/healthcare/patient-tools/nasa-spinoffs-6-innovations-in-health-and-medicine/d/d-id/1316685
Health and Medicine Spin-Offs: https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/363454main_medical_flyer.pdf
How Stuff Works: https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/nasa-inventions/nasa-breakthroughs-in-medicine.htm
8 Spinoffs of NASA Innovations Impacting Your Everyday Life: https://philmckinney.com/8-spinoffs-nasa-innovations-impacting-everyday-life/
23 Great NASA Spin-off Technologies: https://interestingengineering.com/23-great-nasa-spin-off-technologies
Tech Briefs: https://www.techbriefs.com/tb/spinoff
Wow Luna! Thanks for sharing your story! Why am I not surprised that you were able to take a painful physical condition, and transform it into a lovely post about how NASA helps us all? You rock!