Hi - surprised you haven't heard from anyone in Alabama. I have heard about and was referred to Gainesville by two neurosurgeons in the northeast. It might be worth your while (since this is not an emergency situation), to actually go to Gainesville for a consult. HEI, of course, has an excellent reputation but I can fully appreciate your "staying close to home" dilemma as I've been there, done that a few times. I have been able to avoid surgery and still am on W&W since November of 2001. Since my original diagnosis, we now are "snowbirds" and travel back and forth between Florida and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, so the decision to switch my care to a well-known teaching hospital in Boston was a "no brainer" (pun intended).
Good luck with your fact finding - this may be the most difficult part for you. Keep us posted.