"I could not be happier with the results of my surgery," Hawley says. "Being able to pursue my hobby pain-free is a game changer.

Retired Coast Guard member back to doing what he loves after spine surgery

Image Hawley Waterman Rect Image Hawley Waterman Rect Image Hawley Waterman Rect

Fishing and hunting are some of Hawley Waterman's greatest passions. Almost every weekend, Hawley, of Suffolk, fishes in one the area's local rivers with his wife or brother.

Over the last few years, debilitating neck pain forced him to put hunting on hold, and fishing became more challenging with a painful neck. Even worse, he could barely sleep at night.

"I couldn't get comfortable," says Hawley, 60. "There were times my wife had to immobilize my head in a certain position for me to fall asleep."

Initial Diagnosis

Hawley was diagnosed with degenerative disks in his neck in 2005 while on active duty with the Coast Guard. When disks, which act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae, break down, vertebrae rub against each other, causing pain and stiffness.

Doctors also diagnosed him with syringomyelia where a fluid-filled cyst or "syrinx" forms inside the spinal cord and compresses nerves, resulting in numbness or tingling in his hands, feet and face and across the shoulders. His stiff neck also led to shoulder pain.

In the fall of 2017, Hawley's primary care physician through the Veterans Affairs health system referred him to Dr. Dana Adkins, a neurosurgeon with Sentara Neurosurgery Specialists. At that point, he had retired from the Coast Guard and worked as a civilian employee at the Director of Operational Logistics in Norfolk.

Surgical Solution

Dr. Adkins recommended fusion of three vertebrae (C3, C4 and C5) in Hawley's neck. During the surgery, damaged disks are removed and replaced with bone grafts. A plate stabilizes the vertebra.

Both Hawley and his wife, Angie, were extremely impressed with the care Dr. Adkins took in explaining the procedure, and they felt prepared for the July 2018 surgery at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

"When I met Dr. Adkins, I immediately felt extremely comfortable and confident," says Hawley. "I knew I found the right surgeon for my condition."

They are also grateful that Dr. Adkins and his staff called Angie several times during the surgery to update her. She wasn't able to stay in the hospital during the procedure because of another family commitment.

Road to Recovery

After surgery, Hawley wore a neck brace for the first few weeks, limited his activity and took time off work to heal.

When he was cleared to take off his neck brace at night, Hawley could finally sleep comfortably for the first time in years.

With the help of PT to stretch and strengthen and his neck muscles and dry needling to release muscle tension, Hawley's neck pain is gone.

He will have an MRI soon to determine the condition of the cyst. He's still feeling numbness and tingling because of it.

Earlier in his recovery, Hawley joined his brother, Scott, to fish to have a change of scenery and get outdoors. But Hawley watched more than fished. Now with his recovery well underway, Hawley is casting his own line and back to doing with he loves.

"I could not be happier with the results of my surgery," Hawley says. "Being able to pursue my hobby pain-free is a game changer. I am looking forward to fishing this spring more than ever!"

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