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Spinal Surgeon, Dr. Thomas Schuler Shares His Own Journey From Neck Pain to Full Recovery

After suffering with on-going neck pain, Dr. Thomas C. Schuler, CEO & Founder of the Virginia Spine Institute, decided to undergo cervical spine surgery to alleviate his neck pain. Under the care of the Virginia Spine Institute Spine Surgeons, Dr. Brian Subach and Dr. Christopher Good, he selected an innovative cervical hybrid procedure, combining two artificial discs placed and one level fused to preserve his neck’s mobility.
The result: Dr. Schuler is back to his career and passion as a spine surgeon, and his active lifestyle, pain free!


WATCH VIDEO DOCUMENTARY: "ROLE REVERSAL"

TWO YEARS POST-SURGERY:

As Dr. Schuler celebrates the second anniversary of his cervical spine surgery we found him fresh off the slopes skiing double black diamond trails. He is back to his medical practice, balancing time between seeing patients in the office and the operating room. As a result of his full recovery, from the cervical hybrid surgical procedure, he is now golfing, fishing, coaching youth basketball, and backpacking with the boy scouts. Once again he remarks on the miracle of modern spinal surgery and the skilled specialists that perform the surgeries.  

I have first hand experienced this as a surgeon and now as a patient and can say that I am ecstatic to live in the age when so much disability can be overcome with the modern advancements of spinal health care and skilled specialists. - Dr. Thomas Schuler

One year post-surgery, Dr. Schuler reflects on his journey from neck pain to recovery:

I am most frequently asked  by patients: “What would you do if you were presented with this problem and had to make the choice of what surgery to have or whether or not to have surgery, if it was you or a loved one undergoing the procedure?“ I can now answer that with first hand experience. I have had to make the decision regarding the right treatment for myself to overcome severe neck pain, disc herniations, and nerve compression.

Patients often inquire what I would do if I had their problem and needed treatment. The answer is simple. I would undergo surgery. Though for years this has been a theoretical answer for me, but now I have a true first hand answer. I have suffered from severe neck pain for over 20 years, with arm pain bothering me intermittently during this period of time. This progressively worsened to the point that I was starting to lose nerve function in my arms. Because non-operative treatment did not yield enough pain relief,  it was time to seek a surgical resolution to my symptoms. As a spinal surgeon, I am well versed in what the options are and what the risks and potential complications can be. I had to make the choice that the patients have asked me for years. “What would you do if this was you or a loved one?

I chose to have a combination of the best technologies, performed by the top specialists, to fix my problem. In managing my complex neck issue, I had two artificial discs placed and one level fused. This allowed me to balance the best stability while preserving maximum mobility and still accomplishing the goal of the operation, which was to decompress the nerves in the spinal cord. I am now three and one-half months out from my operation and have new found empathy for my patients. In spite of my vast knowledge and the great skills of my partners who performed the surgery, I was still a patient who had to go through the appropriate recovery from surgery. For over two decades, I have counseled patients about the stages they would go through the recovery. Now after experiencing them first hand, I know that not only was I right, but it is tougher when you are the one going through the recovery. The good news is, I fully recovered and have returned to my life in a much better state than I ever was prior to the surgery. I have less pain, more function, and most importantly I am much more actively engaged with my kids and family because of the choice that I made for surgery.

Cervical disc replacements are very new in the United States and it is even rarer for someone to undergo multiple level disc replacements and to couple that with fusion surgery. Treating four levels (three discs) is a complex operation. I am proud to report that by six weeks out from my surgery, I was comfortably back in the office and operating room treating patients and then by ten weeks was back on the golf course. Over the past six months I have been actively engaged in fitness, enjoying my life with my family, and pursuing activities that I have always enjoyed, but was limited previously because of the pain.

The miracle of modern spinal surgery is that through minimal disruption of tissues, one can achieve great success in restoring their active lifestyles. I have first hand experienced this as a surgeon and now as a patient and can say that I am ecstatic to live in the age when so much disability can be overcome with the modern advancements of spinal health care and skilled specialists.

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