Back problems stemming from a serious car accident while in the Navy have plagued Larry Gatie for decades.

Spinal Fusion, PT Provide Relief After Decades Old Injury

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Back problems stemming from a serious car accident while in the Navy have plagued Larry Gatie for decades.

The accident 30 years ago caused two herniated discs and left him temporarily paralyzed for six months. Surgeons inserted rods in his spine to stabilize the vertebrae (T11-T12). Larry learned to live with the pain until symptoms got worse.

"I got scared when my legs started going numb," says Larry, 58 of Virginia Beach.

A New Plan

The Veterans Health Administration booked an appointment with Dr. Wilson P. Daugherty,  a neurosurgeon with Sentara Neurology Specialists, in April 2018.

Imaging tests showed compressed discs, arthritis and a curved lower spine. Dr. Daugherty recommended that the old rod come out and vertebrae be fused from T9 to the hip.

"He asked me when I wanted to have the surgery, and I said 'Tomorrow,' and we did it four days later," says Larry, who had served in the Navy for 10 years as a machinist mate on a submarine. "It is a hard choice to make, but I knew how my quality of life had suffered. I wanted better, so my family and I made the commitment. Once you make the decision, you just need to do it."

Larry stayed at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital for three days after surgery. With two sons in the area and their families, he knew he'd have a support system in place at home to recover.

After the surgery, Larry wore a plastic brace from his chest to hips for three months. He used a walker on and off for two months and had to take it easy as his body healed.

Learning New Habits

Larry was cleared to start physical therapy three months after surgery. He has appointments three times a week and works on exercises from home, as well. Physical therapists are working with him to change the way he walks and does everyday tasks.

"Because of the way I had to compensate for the pain, my hips and legs were a mess," he says. "I walked a certain way just to be able to function. Sometimes you have to create bad habits to survive."

Larry's back pain has improved. The sore muscles he's experiencing during PT are those that haven't been used in years and are now firing up again.

Team Work and Family Support

Larry is pleased with his progress but advises others considering a surgery like his to be ready and willing to be part of a team with the healthcare provider. They also must have reliable help at home. Besides his sons and daughter-in-law, neighbors have pitched in with transportation to his PT appointments

"The biggest thing I've learned through this is how important it is to have the support of family and friends," says Larry, a grandfather of four with another on the way.

With the help he has received and his dedication to his recovery, Larry is able to enjoy his life again.

"You've got to trust and work with your doctors, nurses and your whole support team," he says. "I'm grateful to all.

He also wants people to know that the recovery is tough and takes perseverance.

"If you have surgery like mine, which was the last resort, there isn't any other option, " Larry says. "You have to work hard to recover, but I don't have pain now. My quality of life is much better because the choices we all made"

Larry adds, "My thanks goes out to all. I hope my story will help other people with their choices."

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