Don Jarrell’s “Pops”—is 79 years old. According to Don, Pops has always been a force of nature. He was a schoolteacher in Warner Robins, Georgia, for 19 years; a longtime organizer of a popular Chattanooga-area entertainment show called the Follies; and one of the original eight reps for an insurance and financial services company called Primerica. He was so successful at his job that he was often called on to speak to audiences in the tens of thousands at the Georgia Dome, sharing how and why he got into the insurance business. And his longtime enthusiasm and commitment to the Follies led to a new auditorium at a local school being named after him—with 750 people in attendance for the dedication ceremony.
Pops was also a BalancedBack patient in 2017.
For the five years leading up to his surgery, Don and the rest of his family could see that Pops’ back pain was steadily getting worse, encroaching on all the things he normally loved to do. “Before that he’d been on the treadmill twice a day, and working out with gym buddies three times a week. He slowly started losing his ability to do all those things, to the point where he could barely take 25 steps or stand up for longer than 10 minutes,” Don explained. The family knew something had to be done—or he’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The BalancedBack Experience
A medical evaluation showed that Pops had severe spinal stenosis in his lower back (a narrowing of the passages of the spinal cord and nerves). His spine was badly degenerated. But the family had little faith in the fusion process (Don himself has had a failed fusion surgery), and decided together that the BalancedBack Total Joint Replacement was the right choice in this case.
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Unlike fusion, which removes the joint and fuses bones together, BalancedBack replaces the joint in its entirety. That meant Pops would be relieved of back pain and retain full range of motion—so he could get back to the active life he’d had just a few years before.
When Pops made the decision to have the disc replacement procedure, he knew he’d have to travel to the Cayman Islands to get it. And though the surgical team handled the bulk of the travel arrangements, “Pops is high maintenance,” Don jokes, so he took care of the flight arrangements himself.
Pops traveled with Don and his wife, and Don’s brother and his family. Upon arrival they checked into their hotel and made a visit to NovoClinic Cayman, where Pops was given a final evaluation before his surgery the following day.
Pops had very severe stenosis of the spinal nerve roots and needed implants at two levels of the spine. The surgeons placed the implants at angles to make his posture more erect, which would help him walk upright again.
“Recovery was the best possible situation it could have been, for back surgery.” The family took turns keeping Pops company at the hospital. During off-time between shifts, there was no shortage of things to do. “My wife was off-and-on doing some remote work for her job, and almost everyone did some diving and snorkeling. The food was excellent too—we tried new restaurants for lunch and dinner every day.”
“It was a different experience than having surgery in the U.S.,” Don says. “We got to know the staff at NovoClinic Cayman and CTMH Doctors’ Hospital. The surgeons who worked on Pops were staying at the same hotel we were. We went out to dinner with them, got to know them, and found out why they’re doing what they’re doing.” The whole team seemed like part of our family.
The Road To Recovery
An unexpected byproduct of surgery was that Pops grew two inches, simply by standing up straight again. After fixing two levels of his spine, his posture started to fix itself. And while that was a good thing, it did cause a minor hiccup: The nerves crossing his hip weren’t used to him being so tall, so they stretched as he straightened out, causing some new pain in his right leg.
This resolved as his body adjusted. After his immediate post-op recovery, Pops refused to use his wheelchair anymore. He went from a wheelchair to a hospital chair to a walker, then from scuttling around in a walker to sprinting in a walker. Don says, he’s making great progress. His right leg stretch is almost totally gone, and he is getting more and more active every day.
“The doctors say that with those two implants he has better spinal flexion in those locations than he ever did. And compared to a double-level fusion, he’s a month ahead of schedule in terms of recovery,” says Don. “If the surgery had been done on someone younger, they’d already be out running.”
Today, Don talks to Pops daily, and they go out to lunch or dinner at least twice a week. “He’s number two on my favorites list, with number one being my wife,” he says with a laugh. Would the family choose to do BalancedBack surgery again? “Absolutely,” says Don.
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Depending on your condition, BalancedBack Total Joint Replacement might be a viable option for you, too. Visit our website to learn more and get started on your own path to recovery today.