Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Puts Ultramarathoner Back In the Race


Submitted by Mississippi Valley Surgery Center

As an ultramarathoner, 51-year old John DeDoncker is used to pushing his body to the limit. Running 40, 60, 80, or 100 miles isn’t an easy feat, and the strain it puts on his body can be quite intense. Nonetheless, the pain John was struggling with late last year was far beyond the usual discomforts of being an ultramarathoner.

“When I ran, I was having progressively more pain in my hamstring and lower buttocks of my left leg in particular,” said John, who is CEO at Triumph Community Bank in Davenport and has completed a total of six 100-mile runs. “If I tried to run fast it was painful. If I tried to run more often it was painful. It was even becoming hard to sit in the car for more than 20 minutes at a time.”

He pushed through two 100-mile races using epidurals and cortisone injections in his spine. But late last year he decided a more long-term solution was needed.

“By the end of the year I was unable to run as effectively as I wanted. I went from running a 3-hour,  7-minute marathon at the beginning of 2014 to having difficulties even finishing races towards the end of 2015,” said John.

He turned to Dr. Michael Dolphin, the spine expert at Orthopaedic Specialists.

As one of the area’s only spine surgeons who performs outpatient spine surgery, Dr. Dolphin is highly experienced in this type of minimally invasive procedure. As an outpatient procedure, patients are able to return back home and to their normal lives quicker and with less pain.

“When I first met with John, I could tell immediately that he was an ideal candidate for an outpatient minimally invasive microdiscectomy,” said Dr. Dolphin. “His MRI clearly showed that the nerve damage was significant. In addition, the conservative treatment options he had tried didn’t provide relief and he was in a lot of pain.”

Despite some apprehension about the prospect of having surgery on his spine, John decided to move forward with the procedure.
“I wasn’t ready to give up running,” said John. “The prospect of being able to continue to run outweighed any potential downside of the surgery. Plus, Dr. Dolphin was very helpful in explaining the process and putting me at ease.”

How the Procedure Works
Dr. Dolphin frequently performs microdiscectomies at Mississippi Valley Surgery Center, an outpatient facility in Davenport.

During the surgery, he removes the herniated part of the disc material that is pressing on the spinal nerve, retaining the unaffected disc for continued function. Once the part of the disc that is pinching the nerve is removed, the pain and numbness improves.

As a minimally invasive procedure, Dr. Dolphin is able to do all this with an incision that is less than one inch long.

“It was pretty unbelievable. I got to the Surgery Center at 6am and by 10am I was sitting in my recliner at home,” said John. “The team at the Surgery Center were super friendly and very careful to describe the procedure to make sure I understood what was going to happen and what to expect at home.”

Dr. Dolphin’s techniques have been perfected over 10 years and result in less damage to the muscles, allowing for a quicker return to normal activities.

John wasn’t able to lift anything for several weeks but was able to walk as much as he wanted immediately following the procedure. He started strengthening his core with planks and crunches after about three weeks and was back to running six weeks after the surgery.

“I’m back to running 40-plus miles per week,” said John. “There is mild residual discomfort that will likely improve in the coming months. I would say I’m about 90 percent pain free.”

John is feeling so good that he’s ready for his next 100-mile race.

He is running the legendary “Race Across The Sky” Leadville Trail 100 Run in Colorado in August and hopes to finish it for a fourth time. And he’s not stopping there. He’s got another 100-mile race on the horizon only two months later.

“It’s been great. I was really worried I’d have to retire from long-distance running but Dr. Dolphin reassured me I still have plenty of good years of running ahead of me,” said John. “It was much easier and less painful than I imagined it would be.”

To learn more about Orthopaedic Specialists and Dr. Dolphin, visit www.osquadcities.com. To learn more about the Mississippi Valley Surgery Center, go to www.mvhealth.net and like them on Facebook at facebook.com/MississippiValleySurgeryCenter.