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Spinal Injury, Lumbar Laminectomy

Growing up in New Orleans, Mike has always prided himself on living a healthy and active lifestyle. When he wasn’t working as an architect at his firm, he could often be found hiking, hunting or fishing. Mike even committed himself to running no less than 40 miles a week.

Mike Howard Spine Patient
92 days post-op I hiked 7 hours and about 9 total miles up-down to-from the Ocean Lookout and top of Mt. Megunticook which the highest point in Camden Hills State Park
His active lifestyle came to a halt, though, in 1996, when a spinal cord injury caused Mike to undergo his first neurological spinal surgery, forcing him to retire from running indefinitely. Although Mike was sad to give up his favorite sport, he was glad that he could still enjoy other activities in place of running such as golf and tennis.

This setback was only the first. Several years later, hoping to regain his active lifestyle, Mike endured a second spinal surgery. Unfortunately, this too was unsuccessful and limited his activity even more, taking him off the tennis court and golf course. Finally, a third spinal surgery left him even more immobile, limiting walking to no more than 100 meters at a time.

Always known for his upbeat and positive attitude, Mike was never one to complain easily. But three surgeries sent him spiraling down a path of sadness and hopelessness. And his pain was increasing so rapidly that daily tasks became nearly impossible. Unable to move his left leg, Mike was eventually forced to use a wheel chair for distances over 100 meters. He was told that the pain and immobility was permanent and that he was inoperable.

Mike Turns to Family      

Mike’s depression at all-time high, he turned to his family for support and guidance. Mike’s daughter, a second year resident at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Anesthesiology, couldn’t bear to see her once active dad in so much pain and bound to a wheel chair. She recommended that he make a visit to Dr. Michael Ashburn, Director of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Penn Medicine.

After evaluating Mike’s medical history and current state, Dr. Ashburn told him something he wasn’t expecting to hear.“You’re healthy and fit and I think you still have another surgery in you,” said Dr. Ashburn. “I want you to go see my colleague, Dr. Welch.”

One More Surgery…

After being told by two other neurosurgeons that he was inoperable, Mike wasn’t sure what he would hear when he visited Dr. William Welch, MD, Neurosurgeon at Penn Medicine.

“Dr. Welch sat across from me at my first consultation, looked me right in the eye and told me the greatest news I could have wanted to hear,” recalls Mike. “He said ‘I’ve performed over 17,000 surgeries. I know the precisely source of your pain and exactly what I can do to fix it. Let’s do this.’ I trusted him and scheduled the surgery.”

In March of 2016, Dr. Welch performed a lumbar laminectomy on Mike. This procedure took approximately 4.5 hours and involved Dr. Welch using a tool to bite away at the excess bone on the vertebrae, removing 30 years’ worth of bone from Mike’s vertebrae and helping to relieve some of the pain.

Whereas Mike’s prior surgeries held him back from his active lifestyle, this procedure is the one that helped Mike to get his life back. Mike spent only five days in recovery at the hospital. On his eighth day post-op, Mike was already walking for 45 minutes at a time. He was able to complete full workouts at the gym four months later.

Less than six months later, Mike is back to the lifestyle he had prior to his spinal injury.

mike howard spine patient

3-½ months post-op climbing the hills around Lago di Como in Cernobbio, Italy -near the Swiss-Italian border

“I am so well-healed and feeling so well post-op that I will be in Paris; Malta; Lago de Como, Italy; and Switzerland celebrating my 37th wedding anniversary with my bride. We’ll be hiking, horseback riding, ATV driving, touring in our rental car, and walking tens of miles every week,” says Mike.

He couldn’t be more grateful for the care that Dr. Ashburn, Dr. Welch and the team at Penn gave him “I have at least another 20 years of doing the activities I love,” says Mike. “I never expected to get that back!”

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