Strange Pain: Medical Nightmare Began With Young Driver Not Paying Attention

Fox 9, by Jeff BaillonJuly 24, 2016

Fox 9, by Jeff Baillon

It was a relatively minor car crash. But it was enough to cause a strange, very painful, life-changing disorder. A Twin Cities family shared their story in the hopes drivers start paying more attention behind the wheel. 

Julie Roberts watches the jets go right over her house. Her fascination with planes started as a little girl. It turned into a career as an airline pilot. "All that's gone, all that's just wiped out and we're starting all over," said her husband Eric Sloane. Roberts has gone from controlling a 395,000 pound flying machine to barely being able to stomach a car ride.

The career ending medical nightmare began with a young driver not paying attention. Roberts said there was not time to stop as the driver turned right in front of them. "I had gone to the E.R. and on an X-ray there was nothing broken, just whiplash," she recalled.

At first, Roberts thought the intense pain would subside after physical therapy. "It wasn't until a full year after the accident that I started having paralysis of my hands and a lot of burning pain across the neck and in the hands that we couldn't figure out what was going on," said Roberts.

Doctors wondered if multiple sclerosis was robbing her hands of feeling. But then an MRI discovered a strange looking shape in the middle of her spinal chord.

A Condition known as syringomyelia.

Syringomyelia can cause chronic, debilitating pain and over time, permanent paralysis. The cyst disrupts brain signals from reaching other parts of the body. A congenital abnormality is the most common cause of syringomyelia. 

But about 10,000 cases in the United States happen from a traumatic injury. For Roberts, it was the impact of a seemingly minor car crash. "It's like a physical terrorism I think, cause it changes from day to day," said Roberts.

She doesn't drive anymore, can't lift anything over 15 pounds and is fearful of coughing or sneezing, because it might cause the cyst in her spinal cord to grow and leave her paralyzed.

Research at the National Institutes of Health

Dr. John Heiss is doing research for the National Institutes of Health. "We generally don't tell patients that they'll get better, but some people do," he said. Roberts is one of nearly 200 syringomyelia patients who are getting regularly MRI scans.

"Our study aims to figure out which patients are going to get worse and which patients aren't," said Heiss.  "And the patients that may get worse, we want to operate on before they become worse." Surgery is a very risky proposition; paralysis is a possible side effect.

Roberts avoids using any drugs to deal with her chronic pain. Her most recent MRI shows the cyst in her spinal cord hasn't grown any larger. But it's causing unpredictable spikes in her blood pressure and body temperature. "That's probably the scariest issue I have right now," she added.

Before the car crash, the former pilot had planned to spend another 20 years in the cockpit, then retire to India where she operates a charity to educate poor children.  
Now her focus is to try and stay positive. "I do everything I can. I'm determined to find something that will help," said Roberts.

Sheryl Nixon's story

Sheryl Nixon also developed syringomyelia after a car crash. "Two days later I woke up with the worst migraine of my life. I thought I was going to die," said Nixon. Then she started losing feeling in her hands and feet. One day while she was stripping wall paper she noticed blood all over the floor. "The razor blade was still in my foot and I couldn't feel it," she said.

As her symptoms got worse, she opted for a 12-hour surgery to reduce pressure that was building up from the cyst in her spinal cord. She has had three surgeries. Each one required a six-week hospital stay. Her condition has stabilized, but Nixon still has pain and can no longer run her cleaning business.

"There is no such thing as a small accident," she said. Nixon refused to accept an insurance settlement until she knew what was causing her health problem.  Not until months after the crash when she had an MRI did doctors realize it was syringomyelia.

See original story on Fox 9 News


Client Reviews

out of 14 reviews
James Beadell

Jeff Sieben was very good at communicating with me whether it was email or phone calls.

Joseph Kowalcik

I have been working with Jeff Sieben since the year 2003 and I find he does excellent work.

Steven Lastovich

I have been practicing law for 37 years. Jeff Sieben is an attorney who I often refer cases to because of his special skill set. I recommend him wholeheartedly!

Randall Knutson

Jeff is one of the finest attorneys in Minnesota. And I am glad to say he is one of the finest people in MN too.  Thoughtful, caring, and smart, and also a zealous advocate for his clients.

Christopher Burns

Jeff has been my go to attorney for injured clients for the past ten years. He and his team do a very good job. They are responsive, work hard, and get results.

Sheryl Nixon

Jeff Sieben was the first one I talked to about my injury. I was not sure if there was even a case. But as the months went by and my pain got worse, the seriousness of the injury became apparent. Jeff took on the case and put me at ease about the medical bills and calls. He was professional in his attitude while being compassionate to my situation. I have recommended him to others and will continue to do so. 

Jesse Bukal

In need of a personal injury attorney? Well you're if you're reading this you're in the right place. You'd be hard pressed to find more competent attorneys than the ones here at SiebenCarey.

They took my case to trial and an amazing job presenting the facts and fighting for my best interests! Three years ago I was unsure of what my future would bring; now that it's over I can rest a bit easier. With SiebenCarey as my counsel, I believe I had the absolute BEST representation a person could've asked for. I knew that I wanted the absolute best representation when searching for an attorney to handle my case and I most definitely received it.

If you need a personal injury attorney, look no further. Can't recommend highly enough.

Eric Petoletti

Even though I was states away and could only talk on the phone, they listened and did everything that they could to win my case. I felt like I was a part of the family.

Morgan Petoletti

My husband had an amazing experience with this firm. They listened and took the time to understand our case.

Daniel Ball

Really good professionals, they solved my issues in no time using the most impressive and advanced approach. Really good, highly recommended.

Jenna L. at Insider Pages

I have had nothing but great service with these guys. They are very knowledgable on a wide variety of subjects and topic. They will help you with any case you need!

Jazz Smith

SiebenCarey is a professional and dedicated law organization that help accident victim.

St. Paul Local 12

Thanks for everything, your experience paid off BIG!!!

Carly R.

My boyfriend was hit by a car and while all the attorneys he talked to said he didn't have much chance of a case, SiebenCarey took him on and gave him a fighting chance. He's still recovering, but SiebenCarey is making it a lot easier.

Award Winning Know Your Rights Attorneys

Certified Civil Trial Law Specialists

8 Certified Civil Trial Law Specialists, Minnesota Bar Association
3 Board Certified Trial Advocates, National Board of Trial Advocacy.

2019 Super Lawyers

Also awarded in:
2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008

2020 Best Lawyers in America©

Also awarded in:
2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.

2020 U.S. News Best Law Firms

Also awarded in:
2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010

Attorneys of the Year

5 of our attorneys have been recognized as Attorneys of the Year