Spine Athlete ::: Laura's story

Traumatic spine injury

Diagnosis: Fractured vertebrae

Treatment: Bracing of C7-T1 posterior element fractures without surgery; surgical fusion of T8-T9 flexion-distraction injury with ASIA D Spinal Cord Injury, June 2007

Neurosurgeon: Charles Kuntz, IV, MD

Injury: I was in Montana with six members of the local Boy Scouts board doing a strategic planning retreat. One of the men had a home there. And one morning we went for a hike. It was in June, so there was still some spring snow left. We made it to the top of the mountain and we were coming back down. We came across a snow patch and, stupidly, we decided to walk across it rather than go around it because it was the straightest way. And all of the men managed to make it across. But I got about halfway across and fell and slid about 90 feet down the mountain on the ice, on my back, with my head pointing down the mountain. Well, as I got to the bottom where there are boulders, my body turned sideways. So the impact on the boulders wasn't straight on my head. But I hit the boulders so hard I went back up into the air and came down again 10 feet further down the mountain. I actually had two blows. And then I ended up lying on my stomach on top of a big boulder with all these poor men running around me screaming.”

Recovery: I had a brace that went down to my tailbone up to the top of my head in the back. Then I had a shell that wrapped around my neck in the front. The worst part was that my head literally moved an inch for three months. I never even opened my mouth. I couldn't stretch my mouth for an entire three months. I slept in the brace. The last month I was able to take it off to sleep. I remember I went back to work after two weeks. I thought, oh, I should be OK now. And I had short little heels on. I had to be driven around for three months because I couldn't drive. But I had an appointment with Dr. Kuntz that day. My husband picked me up from work and took me to the doctor's office, and he told the doctor that I had gone to work that day. And I said I was just there for four hours. Dr. Kuntz looked at me and said, “You're going back home for three more weeks. You're not to go to work at all. You don't want to have an operation on your neck, do you?” Nope, nope, nope … He said that I could risk having another surgery. I couldn't go back to work for five weeks, which was pretty hard for me.”

Being a spine athlete: For five weeks while I was in a brace, I had a yoga instructor come to my home twice a week. She helped me with some movement, some moderate stretching. She also helped me learn to meditate. Attitude is so important. The body needs to rest in order to heal. Later, I did Pilates and Gyrotonics, which is similar to Pilates but uses pulleys and weights to generate resistance. That has been the best therapy. I still do the Gyrotonics regularly. I'm also back to riding my bike and playing tennis. I can really do just about anything, except for a few moves in Pilates. You can't articulate your spine when you have a big piece of metal in the middle.”

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Spine Athlete Story Disclaimer -"Laura's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.

"Attitude is so important. The body needs to rest in order to heal."