Giovanni Furnò, 68 years of age, lives in Bollate, a town near Milano. For many years he suffered from cluster headaches, extremely severe and debilitating headaches that recur over a period of time. He tried various forms of treatment, including heavy doses of cortisone injections over many years.
“Unfortunately, I only later discovered that cortisone treatment is the likely reason why I have developed osteoporosis,” said Giovanni.
Long-term steroid treatment can seriously affect bone health, causing osteoporosis and increased risk of fractures. The result for Giovanni was devastating. One day in 2001 or 2002, he coughed lightly while eating a meal at the kitchen table. Immediately, he felt severe back pain. Giovanni sought medical attention, and, as shown by various tests and X-rays, it was discovered that two vertebrae had collapsed. Following the operation to reconstruct the vertebae at a Milan hospital, Giovanni had to wear a metal corset for 45 days.
It was quite a shock when, during this period of recuperation, three more vertebral fractures occured.
Giovanni recalled, “This second incident was really very severe. I couldn’t even get out of a chair. When I returned to the hospital the doctors seemed surprised. As a result, more tests were done, including bone marrow testing. This last test showed that everything was “fine”, so I underwent further surgery to reconstruct the three vertebrae. In terms of recuperation after surgery, I was not advised to do anything in particular or to take any kind of treatment.
Vertebral fractures can be extremely debilitating, and for many people of working age fragility fractures impact on the inability to work. In this respect Giovanni was fortunate that his vertebral fractures had not occured earlier: “My work was physically demanding as I was responsible for a warehouse where we had to lift heavy weights. Fortunately, just as my health problems began to cause problems at work, I reached retirement age and was able to leave work with a pension.“
He was also fortunate to find an institute in Milano which specialized in osteoporosis. In 2002 he had his first appointment with Dr. Maria Luisa Bianchi, a well known osteoporosis expert. Giovanni was consequently put on osteoporosis treatment and was continuosly monitored through various tests, including DXA scans and periodic blood and urine testing.
Within six months of treatment Giovanni noted great improvements that have continued to this day. In fact his bone health improved to the point that he could do much of the same kind of activities as he did before the fractures, but obviously taking precautions and being especially careful when lifting anything.
Now, having had medical treatment for 13 years, he has only one intravenous treatment per year and he hasn’t experienced any particular difficulties or set backs while doing physical activity. The only thing he has noticed is that when he sits for several hours, he takes a bit of time to stabilize himself. He also takes great care when trying to stand from a sitting position saying, “Once burned, twice shy: my second set of fractures occurred because I rose from a chair without supporting myself with my hands as I stood up – now I’m extra careful.”
“Today I live well, the same as I did before discovering I have osteoporosis. I don’t follow a particular diet, although I was advised to now drink and eat more dairy foods, like milk and cheese, because I rarely consumed dairy foods in the past.”
He warns young people who find themselves in a similar situation: “Take care of yourself, get better, and be aware of all the medicines you are taking because they can have terrible collateral effects.”