Neurosurgeon’s procedure honors patient’s beliefs

UF Health Neurosurgery patient James Ziglar and his family
UF Health Neurosurgery patient James Ziglar, center, surrounded by family.

A neurosurgeon successfully repairs a spinal injury using a noninvasive technique that did not require a blood transfusion — upholding the patient’s religious beliefs.

James Ziglar is a pillar of strength for his family, who built his foundation on faith. For 35 years, he spent most of his days driving a forklift on and off trucks at a Jacksonville warehouse. At home, he is a loving husband to his wife, Linda, and a proud father to two strong daughters, Lisa and Latricia. The 74-year-old has long since retired, but is still the glue that holds this family together.

“My father is definitely the strong, silent type. He worked hard to provide for us, and made sure we always had what we needed,” said Latricia Henderson, his daughter.

Family always came first for James, and he made sure to fit in quality time with them during their annual family vacations. Two years ago, they went to Washington, D.C., to visit relatives when James fell on his way to the airport and again after landing in Jacksonville.

“We knew something was wrong,” Linda said. “He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, but we knew his falls had nothing to do with that.”

After falling a few more times, they rushed him to UF Health Jacksonville, where he underwent a series of exams. An MRI finally revealed he had spinal stenosis, a narrowing between several of the vertebrae in his lower back.

“The cause can vary from person to person, but it is often acquired as part of the aging process,” said Dunbar Alcindor, MD, a neurosurgeon at UF Health Jacksonville.

His doctor at the time recommended surgery. The procedure required a large incision that can cause significant blood loss. James is a devout member of Jehovah’s Witnesses — a Christian denomination that prohibits blood transfusions.

“Faith is paramount in our household. It made us the family we are today,” Latricia said. “For my dad, receiving blood was not an option. The situation was heartbreaking.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses point to four Scriptures in the Bible they feel forbids them from donating or accepting blood, no matter how dire the circumstance. Left with few options, the family looked into transferring James to another hospital when they heard a knock on the door.

“I will never forget Dr. Alcindor’s first words that evening: ‘I heard you need a neurosurgeon,’” Linda said. “And when he told us how he could help, it was the answer to our prayers.”

Alcindor explained he could remove the compression on the spine with a minimally invasive approach using a small tube. The procedure, involves a smaller incision, keeps the back muscles intact and causes little blood loss.

“Patients tend to have less pain and are typically discharged the same day,” Alcindor said. “I do one to two of these surgeries a week.”

The family agreed to have Alcindor perform the procedure. After the surgery, James remained in the hospital for about a week due to other medical issues. He was able to walk again with no problems after about a month of physical therapy.

“We are extremely satisfied with the outcome,” Latricia said. “This shows that medicine and the Bible don’t have to clash, and we will always appreciate Dr. Alcindor’s respect for our beliefs.”

“He saw us as people, and others can benefit from this procedure, whether they do it this way for personal or religious reasons,” Linda said.

James and Linda celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary this year. They share a lifetime of love immersed in faith that continues today, thanks in large part to the compassionate care they received at UF Health Jacksonville.