Getting his life back

Dr. Brian Witwer, neurosurgeon with SCL Health Comprehensive Spine Center, walks with Mark McKenny. McKenny suffered from debilitating back pain which was diagnosed, operated on and ultimately relieved, allowing McKenny to take full part in his daughter’s college graduation in Japan.

For years, Mark McKenny suffered from a painful degenerative lower back condition.

“I was doing everything possible to avoid surgery and kept putting it off, but over time it gradually affected every part of my life. It got to the point where the pain was so debilitating I couldn’t walk more than a few steps before having to stop,” he said.

Mark’s tipping point came when his daughter graduated from college in Japan.

“There was no way I was going to miss her graduation, but I was afraid that once in Japan I would have to be pushed around in a wheelchair. That was the last straw for me; I had to find a solution, so I went to see Dr. Witwer,” McKenny said.

St. Mary’s neurosurgeon Brian Witwer said that in reviewing McKenny’s diagnostics he could see that he had a severely collapsed disc in his spine which was crushing the nerve.

“Mark’s disc slip was so bad that it was bone on bone. Basically, there was no disc left. We first considered the non-surgical approach of doing injections with an anti-inflammatory, but that was only going to provide temporary relief. He needed a more permanent solution which was to remove the pressure on the spine through fusion surgery.  Ultimately, however, it was Mark’s choice,” said Dr. Witwer.

“Dr. Witwer took the time to explain why he was recommending surgery, but never put pressure on me to do it,” McKenny said. “He made it clear what we could expect from the surgery and what the risks were, and that the decision was mine to make. It’s not easy to choose to undergo an operation, but I got to know Dr. Witwer and trusted him. I knew that surgery was my best option to get my life back.”

“The best part of my job is getting to know my patients,” added Dr. Witwer. “They’re giving me so much by trusting me to operate on them; it’s such a leap of faith. I want them to feel like they really know me and that we’re going to get through this together. And when my patients do well it makes my day. It’s why I do this.”

“Well, I sure made his day then,” laughed McKenny, “because the day after surgery it was 100% relief. They got me on my feet almost immediately and I was very happy to get up and find that the pain wasn’t there anymore. It was just gone. Dr. Witwer did an amazing job.”

“It was a team effort,” said Dr. Witwer. “St. Mary’s has put together a comprehensive spine center that rivals any institution in the nation in addressing problems of this nature. Everyone on the team, from the physicians to the dedicated nursing staff to the technicians, specializes in the nuances of taking care of neuro patients. And our operating room technology is state-of-the-art, assisting the surgical team in placing hardware precisely and safely. As a surgeon, it’s exciting and fulfilling to have such resources available to help our patients get back to living their lives.”

“Dr. Witwer and his team gave me back something I hadn’t had for a long time: basic mobility,” McKenny concluded.  “He cleared me to go to Japan for my daughter’s graduation and I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go.  I really did get my life back.”

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