Endowment benefits spine surgery program

Norma Herring

Norma Herring, of Branch County, is active at age 81. She grew up working on a tenant farm in south central Michigan with her family, a life she described as “dirt poor, but happy.” Norma enjoyed the physically demanding farm work she did from age 13 into her 20s. Unfortunately, hard labor took a permanent toll on her spine. Even after years of chiropractic treatments, physician visits and two spine surgeries, Norma still had severe pain and was unable to stand up straight.

In 2014, Norma’s surgeon told her he could do nothing further, but he referred her to his former medical school professor, neurosurgeon Frank La Marca, MD. Dr. La Marca, who is the Medical Director for Henry Ford Jackson Hospital Neurosurgery, was with the University of Michigan at the time.

Norma had nearly given up hope at this point. “I was bent over so badly, the X-ray tech had to take two films of my spine and piece them together for a complete picture,” she recalled. “I am eternally grateful to Dr. La Marca for believing in me and taking a chance. He is the most caring person I have ever known. He treated me as a whole person, not just a challenging case.” Dr. La Marca successfully performed a highly complex, 10-hour, complete back fusion on Norma, which straightened her spine and alleviated her pain.

Norma followed up with physical therapy and was doing very well until 2016, when she fell while working in her yard. Dr. La Marca, who had since moved to Henry Ford Jackson Hospital, was able to repair her three broken vertebrae and damage to some of the hardware he had used in the back fusion. Norma fell again in 2017, fracturing her hip and femur. This time, she was treated by an orthopedic surgeon, but she returned to Dr. La Marca for follow-up care. Despite her multiple surgeries and the rehabilitation and physical therapy that followed, Norma remains positive. She is determined to live independently and continues to maintain her own home, as she has done for the past 49 years.

Norma is also determined to help others who have spine issues—especially seniors. Through frugal living, she managed to build a significant estate, which she has generously bequeathed to the Henry Ford Health Foundation in Dr. La Marca’s name. Her planned gift will support research and technology to further refine and improve spine surgery for geriatric patients. “I know others can benefit from the life-changing work of Dr. La Marca and his team,” Norma said. “I want them to experience the exceptional care that has allowed me to regain my quality of life.”

As she continues in her recovery, Norma stays active by volunteering for her church weekly, being a companion and friend to her sister and enjoying the fulfilling life she has made for herself. She can take pride in knowing that her bequest will make a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of others in need of spine surgery.

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