Veteran Spinal Champion® Spotlight: Aaron

In 2006, Spinal Champion, Aaron, was an infantry officer at Fort Campbell, KY in the 101st Airborne Division. He considered himself to be in pretty good physical shape without any health issues. One day, everything was as it should be. He was waking up early to do physical training, PT, and going to work. The next day he woke up in excruciating pain in his back. It was completely unexpected.

“I went to work but was not able to conduct PT. Instead, I had a sergeant drive me to the emergency room where I had X-Rays and MRIs and was assigned a doctor who dealt only with spine issues. I was given pain killers and muscle relaxers just to survive. I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease,” said Aaron.

After being diagnosed, everything changed in Aaron’s life. From being admitted to the emergency room on, there was never a moment that he wasn’t in pain until after his spinal fusion.

“I never did PT again in the Army and I spent lots of time at the hospital trying different treatments. I couldn’t run anymore and stairs became very difficult because I couldn’t lift my feet high enough. The toes of my boots were also scuffed because I would drag my feet a lot. I received a medical discharge from the Army because of my inability to do anything physical,” said Aaron.

Over the next seven years, Aaron was constantly in pain varying from a 7-10 on the pain scale. On a good day he was taking ibuprofen around the clock and suffered through his work and chores at home. On a bad day, Aaron was on the floor on pain killers and muscle relaxers.

“I thought the only time I would be pain free would be after I died,” said Aaron.

Aaron continued to work physically outside on his property as much as possible. One day, after cutting some locust trees down, he was taking a shower and noticed the cloth kept catching something on his right thigh.

“I discovered a locust tree thorn had broken off in my thig– I didn’t even know it was there! I gave my wife my deer skinning knife and some tweezers and had her remove the thorn. I sat and watched as she cut my skin without flinching. My wife prompted me to do something about my back because I was losing all sensation in my leg. It was on this day I decided I would try surgery,” said Aaron.

Prior to trying surgery, Aaron had undergone every kind of treatment imaginable. He had tried every kind of pain killer and muscle relaxer out there, which only masked the pain. He also tried physical therapy which just seemed to make things worse. Later, he had multiple steroid injections at several levels on the spine and SI joints. The only treatment that helped at all was traction, but the pain relief was only temporary, returning as soon as the weights were removed and his spine recompressed.

“Finally I sought out a spine surgeon. I knew several patients of his that had made dramatic recoveries. He believed a spinal fusion would work for me. I was in so much pain I was ready to give it a try. I was afraid that the surgery would limit me on the very physical lifestyle I like to live. I was still deer hunting, cutting wood, hiking, and planting a garden but at very high pain level and on a very limited scale. I had the surgery in January 2014. I remember the wake up test in the operating room after surgery when I was asked to move my feet. I could not believe how easily they moved! I did not realize it had become a chore just to wiggle my feet!” said Aaron.

The recovery process was slow for Aaron. His surgery happened in January and wasn’t completely healed until May. He followed his instructions precisely and attended physical therapy. Amazingly, his pain level went from a constant level of 7-10 to 0! 

I have no pain at all anymore, not in my back, legs, hip, or feet. The feeling has also come back in my leg and I can lift my feet high again. I still take the stairs instead of the elevator because I can. I…cannot believe how my life has changed. My back is back to the day before I went to the emergency room in 2006. In May, after physical therapy was complete, my wife and I flew to Bulgaria and picked up our two adopted sons. I could not imagine having a six and five year old with a bad back. I was able to carry them around the city and play games with them. Since then, we have had another son. I am now able to do all of things I enjoy with my sons – hunting, hiking, vegetable gardening, and cutting and splitting firewood.”

Aaron suffered for seven longs years before seeking treatment, but he wishes he had done it sooner.

“I was scared of surgery and it seems so silly now. I have my life back now…I hope this helps others decide to do it sooner rather than later. There is no sense in suffering,” said Aaron.

Hear more Spinal Champion® stories from our JournalSpine-Talks® , or the Get Back To It Podcast.