Spinal Champion Advocate Program

Meet The Advocates

Advocates are invited into the program by the National Spine Health Foundation and offer truthful insights on topics such as: diagnosis, recovery, questions to ask, second opinions, finding emotional support, and finding educational resources.  Advocates encourage others to take next steps on their patient journeys by being positive, honest, and realistic, and conveying their personal experience of finding the right treatment for their specific need.  Spinal Champion conversations can equip patients to seek professional treatment, have hope, and live life on their own terms.

Abby Weber
New York | Arthritis, Laminectomy, Spinal Fusion, Lower Back
Rafael Rodriguez
California | Two-Level Spinal Fusion, Lower Back
Mary Wykle, PhD
Virginia | Spinal Fusion, Neck, Lower Back
Ella Turk
Ella Turk
Virginia | Scoliosis, Nonsurgical, Back Brace

Spinal Champion Advocates do not offer professional medical advice nor make diagnoses. Rather, they share their own patient experiences. They are not employees of the National Spine Health Foundation and their views do not necessarily reflect those of the National Spine Health Foundation. Spinal Champion Advocates may choose not to respond to patient messages that appear to be spam or abuse. They are not required to respond to patient messages and all conversations had are on a volunteer basis. If Advocates choose not to respond, they are encouraged to forward requests to the NSHF Program Manager.  he National Spine Health Foundation reserves the right to remove them from the Spinal Champion Advocate program at any time.

Abby Weber

New York | Arthritis, Laminectomy, Spinal Fusion, Lower Back

I am a retired kindergarten teacher, mom, and a Spinal Champion! With years of bending, twisting, and keeping up with five-year-olds under my belt, I experienced a long journey to spinal health. My spinal problems began with a car accident that led to lower back pain which would persist for over a decade. My journey included being diagnosed with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, misalignment of my spine, and a ruptured disc. Over time, I was treated with multiple surgeries, physical therapy, and pain injections. I also experienced a significant weight loss journey. The right treatments over time pointed me to my pain-free life today where I enjoy some of my favorite hobbies including gardening and hiking, but I personally understand the frustration and uncertainty that comes with needing many different treatments. I wish I had known about NSHF when I started my patient journey. I have shared NSHF’s amazing website with anyone I know dealing with spine issues!

 

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Rafael Rodriguez

California | Two-Level Spinal Fusion, Lower Back

I am a school administrator and former teacher, an athlete, a husband, and a Spinal Champion! My journey to spinal health involved being diagnosed with spondylolisthesis and fractured vertebrae. I was in the midst of training for a triathlon competition when I was forced to walk with a cane for several months and needed to be treated with a spinal fusion surgery. Cortisone injections prior to surgery allowed me to continue training physically without pain as I wanted my body to be in good shape for recovery. My surgery was successful overall and I was able to participate in the We’ve Got Your Back 5k! This motivated me to run my first half marathon at 5 months post-op and then complete my first half-distance triathlon for my one-year Spineaversary. I take time every day to remember the journey that got me to where I am as well as envision where I want to go.

 

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Mary Wykle, PhD

Virginia | Spinal Fusion, Neck, Lower Back

I am an aquatic therapist and instructor, a wife, a mother, and a Spinal Champion! Throughout my life, I have always valued physical activity. Years ago when I was living abroad in Germany, a ski accident led to an ankle injury and further complications. Treatment and incorrect healing of that injury led to pain in my back. I was diagnosed with significant scoliosis and rotation that seemed to be partially genetic and partially environmental and I was advised to have a spinal fusion surgery. My fusion was initially successful, but later I needed a hardware removal due to a broken screw and even later due to disc degeneration I needed an additional spinal fusion. Many surgeries later, I am as active as ever and you can always find me in the water. To this day, I like to call myself a “challenge in progress.”

 

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Ella Turk

Virginia | Scoliosis, Nonsurgical, Back Brace

Ella Turk

I am a straight-A high school student, daughter, distance runner, dancer, and a Spinal Champion! At the age of 10, I was diagnosed with scoliosis with a spine curvature of 11 degrees. I was being followed by a specialist, but within two years of diagnosis my curvature increased (more than 12 degrees in a six month timeframe!) leading to a curvature of 24 degrees. I had to make the decision as a middle school student to wear a back brace for 20-23 hours a day and it wasn’t easy. I didn’t know how long I would need to wear my brace but I decided to be strong because I knew this choice would potentially prevent me from needing surgery. I’m someone who likes to stay positive and was determined to not let my diagnosis or brace stop me from running, dancing, or wearing the latest fashion trends. There were times in school that I was treated differently because of my brace, but I came out stronger and learned empathy as well as appreciating the differences in all people. Now that I’m done growing physically, I don’t need to wear a brace anymore but I desire to be an advocate for those who do.

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