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Dad who sought help from back pain that left him almost unable to walk urges men to prioritize their spine health for Men’s Health Week and Father’s Day

Authored by Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS, Virginia Spine Institute. June 15, 2021

This week – leading up to Father’s Day on Sunday is International Men’s Health Week, a week intended to raise awareness of the importance of men and boys prioritizing their health, early detection, and treatment rather than trying to push past pain or let health problems linger.

Studies show men tend to have negative attitudes about going to the doctor, with one study finding nearly 2/3 (65%) of men avoid going to the doctor ‘as long as possible’, 72% say they’d rather do household chores like cleaning toilets than go to the doctor and 37% saying they withhold information from their doctors because they weren’t ready to face the truth of a potential diagnosis. 

In honor of International Men’s Health Week (June 14-20), which leads into Father’s Day (June 20), we are featuring Sheldon Buytenhuys, a 44-year-old father of 3 teenage girls, who prioritized his spinal health. Ten years ago, he was in an accident when a driver ran a red light, slamming into his car. At the time, Sheldon was a PGA golf professional and triathlete. Initially, he dealt with terrible shoulder and back pain and numbness. Within four months he discovered his pelvis had also been fractured and was increasingly compressing two discs in his spine. It got so bad Sheldon could barely walk – and needed to stop from the terrible pain just trying to walk one block to the bus stop to get his girls. And yet – the first doctor he saw for help told him his only options were physical therapy and living with the pain. Sheldon got a second opinion from doctors at the Virginia Spine Institute in Reston and in November 2010, Dr. Thomas Schuler performed a 2-level lumbar fusion. 

Sheldon says he felt better immediately. He was back to running in 3 weeks and more than ten years later – he continues to tell his story because he wants men to know they don’t have to be afraid of addressing their health – even if the problem is big and requires surgery. Since his surgery, Sheldon has remained pain-free and active. He went back to running and competing in triathlons for several years. Today you’re likely to find him on his Peloton, playing golf and keeping up with his busy girls. 

Sheldon shares his story about the short and long-term payoffs of addressing your health problems and both men can speak to the importance of men prioritizing their health, seeking out help, and taking action – even if it involves surgery – to stay active and healthy. Dr. Schuler has a story of how he prioritized his health too  (he had neck surgery) so that he could continue to practice and enjoy his active family.

Sheldon Buytenhuys, a 44-year-old father of 3 from Sterling, Virginia was a PGA professional and triathlete when a driver turned his life upside down by running a red light and slamming into his car. Suddenly Sheldon, who’d been able to run for hours, was experiencing terrible shoulder and back pain and numbness. Within four months he could barely walk. He discovered his pelvis had been fractured too and was increasingly compressing two discs in his spine. 

“It was awful. Not only couldn’t I run or play golf – I couldn’t even lift my kids,” Sheldon says. “The pain got worse and worse every day to the point where one day I tried to walk around the block to go pick up my girls from the bus stop and I had to sit down halfway because I couldn’t go any further. It was terrible.”

And yet – the first doctor he saw for help told him his only options were physical therapy and living with the pain. Sheldon couldn’t bear the thought of that and got a second opinion from doctors at the Virginia Spine Institute in Reston. “I knew right away I could help him and in November 2010, I performed a successful 2-level lumbar spinal fusion on him,” says Dr. Schuler.  

Sheldon says he felt better immediately. “Pre-surgery I couldn’t even lift my right foot when doctors pushed on it and I’ll never forget – the first morning after my surgery, Dr. Schuler pushed on my foot and it didn’t stop me at all. I was able to lift my foot straight up in the air and it didn’t hurt at all. My wife was in tears. She was so happy and I was just so grateful,” Sheldon says.

The active father was back running in 3 weeks and went on to complete an Ironman Triathlon (a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon.)

More than ten years later, you’re likely to find him on his Peloton, playing golf, and keeping up with his three busy daughters. He continues to tell his story because he wants men to know they don’t have to be afraid of addressing their health – even if the problem is big and requires surgery. 

 

Studies show men tend to have negative attitudes about going to the doctor, with one study finding nearly 2/3 (65%) of men avoid going to the doctor ‘as long as possible’, 72% say they’d rather do household chores like cleaning toilets than go to the doctor and 37% saying they withhold information from their doctors because they weren’t ready to face the truth of a potential diagnosis. Sheldon says he understands. He was scared to undergo surgery – but he also knew it was something he had to do to get back to the active life he loves.

“When something does happen, don’t be stubborn. Big health problems aren’t going to magically fix themselves but they can and will get worse if you ignore them. Just face the problem head-on, seek out help, follow the advice of those you trust, and if you do have something major like surgery, put in the work in recovery to get on the other side of the challenge,” Sheldon says.

“I spent six months in a really awful, painful place,” he continues. “But that day I had back surgery with Dr. Schuler  – that was basically the day I was given a new lease on life and honestly every day since I wake up grateful for all the things I can do on a daily basis with my kids and family. I’m just so glad I got help, got that problem taken care of, and got back to living the life I love.”

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