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March 7, 2019
My comeback story starts with a flashback. It was 1978 and I was a 20-year-old Navy enlisted man. I was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, far from my childhood home in North Minneapolis. As I watched the sun set over the ocean I thought to myself, “Someday, I want to walk down a beautiful beach like this with Renee” (my girlfriend at the time). Fast-forward 40 years. I could barely walk half a city block. My legs felt weak, then numb. I experienced “foot drop,” with my right foot dragging due to nerve damage. One of my toes are completely numb and has been for years. Normal activities are a major struggle. Walking to a restaurant with friends meant they had to frequently stop to wait for me to catch up, or unintentionally leave me trailing far behind. Mowing the lawn was a lengthy ordeal and strolling along a beach – not trudging or stumbling in the sand – was not much of a possibility.
What happened to me? In my early 20s, I was helping a friend do some home repairs. I was pushing a wheelbarrow filled with heavy, wet concrete. I injured my back, herniating two discs. Prior to that injury, I was active and athletic. I had completed three marathons, two triathalons and numerous 5 and 10k races. The back injury immediately curtailed my distance running. Over the next few years, my pain levels increased. I consulted with Dr. Crowe of Twin Cities Orthopedics and we jointly decided surgery was my best option to relieve the pain. I was 29 years old.
After my initial surgery, the back pain eased, but that relief was short-lived. At age 31, I had a second surgery with Dr. Crowe. Over the next 20 years, I was rarely pain-free. As I aged, normal activities and daily chores become more and more difficult. In my late 50s, the pain and lack of mobility became so severe that I went back to Dr. Crowe for another consultation. One non-surgical option was a steroid injection between the L3 and L4 discs. I opted for this minimally invasive approach, only to experience extreme pain during the injection. It was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. Sadly, it didn’t improve my situation. Like many men, I went into denial and avoidance. I did not seek medical attention for eight months.
By the time I summoned the courage to go back to Dr. Crowe, my situation was dire. I was experiencing severe neuropathy, with ongoing leg numbness, persistent nerve tingling and significant problems walking. Dr. Crowe referred me to a neurologist who performed a number of tests and came to the diagnosis of “Sensorimotor Polyneuropathy.” I asked him about treatment options and was told, “you’ll have to learn to live with it.” I still clung to that dream of walking along a beautiful beach with Renee, now my wife of 35 years. I told the neurologist about my desire. He paused and said, “You can still do that; you’ll just have to walk very slowly and take plenty of rest stops.” In other words, trudge along a few yards at a snail’s pace, then find a place to sit until I regained feeling in my legs, then repeat. Not exactly the romantic beach walk with Renee I envisioned as a 20-year-old.
This was no way to live. Renee and I talked and I decided I needed to seek out other treatment options. We considered going to a world-renowned medical center in southern Minnesota. But before doing that, I felt I should consult again with Dr. Crowe. I have a 30-year relationship with him and that is something I would not get at any other health care system, no matter how good it is. I made another appointment with Dr. Crowe. After a long talk, he told me the words I needed to hear. “You are too young to live this way,” he said. He said nerve decompression surgery might provide me the relief I yearned for. I put my trust in Dr. Crowe’s decades of expertise.
Dr. Crowe performed the surgery in December, 2018. I was on the operating table for more than six hours due to the very poor condition of my spine. The result has exceeded my expectations. The surgery gave me back my life. I owe a debt of gratitude to the entire Twin Cities Orthopedic team. Today, I am walking proof of Dr. Crowe’s knowledge and talent. I am pain-free. I have regained all feeling in my legs (and yes, even in that long-numb toe). The neuropathy is gone and I am regaining my strength. Just three weeks after the surgery, I could spend an hour working out on an elliptical machine. I began to extend the distance I walked each day.
In addition to thanking Dr. Crowe, I want to give a shout-out to his team. Jenny, my Care Coordinator, has been outstanding in answering all of my questions, scheduling appointments and making sure I was never in the dark as I went through the surgery and recovery. I can’t say enough good things about Brianna, PA-C. Brianna was present during my surgery and followed up with me at the end of that long day. She even offered to play a hand of cribbage with me that night. She took special steps to ensure my pain was under control, then worked to set up the physical therapy I needed to move forward with my recovery. In March of this year, my wife Renee and I traveled to the Florida panhandle and I enjoyed a long, memorable pain-free walk with her as the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Had you seen us strolling arm-in-arm along the shore, you wouldn’t have thought it was anything special, but for me it was an epic comeback for which I am deeply grateful.