Spinal Fusion | Richard Shetter’s Story

U.S. Army veteran Richard Shetter has conquered many obstacles, but nothing took him out of commission the way his back pain did. After living with the pain for many years and not having any positive results from prior care, Rick sought a second opinion from the Johns Hopkins orthopaedic spine division. Soon after seeing orthopaedic spine surgeon Brian Neuman, Rick decided to undergo a spinal fusion surgery, leading him to be absolutely pain-free. Now, Rick is back enjoying his active lifestyle in York, Pennsylvania, with his two dogs and his wife, Abbey.

To learn more about our orthopaedic services, please visit hopkinsmedicine.org/ortho. To schedule an appointment, call 443-997-2663 (BONE).

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Comment (157)

  1. Love your story Richard .I worked 12 years as a mechanic im married with 3 kids to support. during my years my right leg would hurt so bad I would fall I couldn't get out of bed .I tried everything to stay working .meds . physical therapy . Epidural injections. nothing worked I was told to get back surgery to get better. so I did 6 months ago.the minute I woke up from surgery my left leg that never had pain before is burning it feels like it's on fire.i told the surgeon but he blows me off and says it will get better.i need to get better .so I could go back to work and take care of my family my wife was diagnosed with MS last year.too so it's been a rough ride for us .watching your video gave me some hope

  2. Good for you, I relate to what you went through, just had my fusion done 2 weeks ago and I'm already pain free walking, mine was done at Hartford hospital, at the bone and joint institute by dr Sean Esmmendi, he definitely changed my life. Good luck and I hope everything goes well for you. Ismal Lopez.

  3. Go slow , no bending or sit ups anymore, or you could be in pain again , i know i been in and out of pain, getting ready for another fusion , because i fell 6 months and cant take the pain at all, so go slow please, im happy your free, but live within your disability and enjoy your life!

  4. Fusion Surgery can lead to more Surgeries! What everyone needs to be clear about, very clear.

    What is missing from these stories is the next Chapter 6 to 12 years later. When you fuse bones together that are supposed to articulate some 6 degrees, the added friction on the discs above and below (especially and often above) causes added wear on the next disc. The condition is called ASD Adjacent Segment Degeneration, and is a subject that Patients should know about and consider to research prior to committing to a fusion surgery.

    How I ended up in Barcelona… Fist of all, each disc provides 6 degrees of motion. Losing 6 degrees of motion if you are doing one Level is not that noticeable, but I had a double level and the outcome now 16 years later is I am living with muscle tissue that can’t stretch in that area due to range limitations and likely factors like scar tissue that block circulation has left me with a life-long condition requiring pain medication every night using two lidocaine pain and occasional Antiinflammatory Flector patches. Limited insurance coverage factors makes this an expensive collateral damage cost over a lifetime. If you could have a higher chance to avoid these problems and costs, would you look at better options?

    My fusion was at L4/L5 and L5/S1 and after 8 years pain returned and had to have the disc above the fusion trimmed and it was bulging into a nerve and had compressed. This is called a microdiscectomy. Later this does not work and You get talked into physical therapy and injections, yet the fact is the disc above has worn down and nerves are being impinged. At ten years out, I tried everything and was miserable. I worked out several days a week, pain injections, RF ablation, took script pain meds, PT and all to limited avail. At 12 years out the meds had to be severely increased – it felt like a knife in my spine. I was a real charm to be around too…

    I believe in doing extensive research and desire the best solution and found that Europe was somehow ten years ahead. The artificial disc was invented in Germany in the mid 1970’s. The conclusion is I went to Barcelona Spine Center for an artificial disc not FDA approved in US that they had been using for some ten years and also in 37 other Countries Workdwide. The day after the surgery I was walking and noticed that the pain was gone and warm circulation was back. In 4 days I was released from the hospital (awesome place btw), and walked 15 miles over the next ten days in Barcelona with full ease – literally as a tourist. It was a Wow Experience! It cost me $26k and insurance will only cover emergencies out of US. But, it was worth it. The disc I had was the Spinal Kinetics M6 and it has a center core that has a us Cushion effect so it does not wear down the adjacent disc like a fusion. It features 6 degrees of natural motion.

    Find out if you are a candidate for an artificial disc by first finding a surgeon that SPECIALIZES in artificial discs. I went to Rush Chicago Dr Deutch who has done several thousand. It’s not about the inconvenience of some incidental travel for a few days, it about having you life back with the lowest rate of ASD possible. Who wants another fricken surgery, right?

    I look at Tiger Woods and say, why did he get talked into Fusion? Why take any range out of your motion? This man is living this limitation ever day now for the rest of his life. The real point is he likely went to a fusion only surgeon. Many spine surgeons were never trained on artificial disc implants and many will refer them to being experimental and they fail. They may be experimental to that surgeons but not to the specialist. By and large, any modern day failed discs are commonly due to the surgeons failure in precision experience or applying an artificial disc to a person who is not a good candidate. If you have bone density issues, other bad spinal health issues, bad kyphosis or bad health or excessive weight issues, you might not be a good candidate. The excessive weight issues is especially a serious problem for lumbar artificial disc implants.

    The fact is surgeons don’t want to be sued or have to report to their insurer how many re-operations they had to perform because of an artificial disc failure. In most cases of problems with artificial discs are that the surgeon took too much bone out (not a problem for fusions, but artificial discs are precision implants).

    In my own opinion, if I were to have a US surgeon, I would implant the Mobi-C (Cervical) as it’s rated for two levels, even if you only need one. It’s from France and they are pioneers in up to 4 levels. The only disadvantage is that the discs in the US don’t have a cushion effect and will transfer more energy up to the next disc (Spinal Kinetics is trying to get FDA approval but politics of big business is likely holding it up). The Mobi-C has a movable but hard plastic center movement core. Spinal Kinetics and ESP discs have cushion centers and offer the best current science offers to not transferring energy to burn up the next disc level. In 2016 I paid $26k for a one level Spinal Kinetics M6 lumbar artificial disc implant surgery (full price – surgery, hospital, anesthesia, implant and physical therapy while in town). Only had to pay for hotel and travel. Then in 2018 went back to Barcelona paid $35k for a double level in my neck with the ESP disc. I am gleefully happy I did so. I will work for two extra year before retirement to pay for it. I have a ton more energy to work now. If I were to do it over, I would have had both lumbar and neck surgeries the same day to save costs, but we had two fantastic trips out of it. Tax deductible variables, check with your CPA, not Uncle Fred who just fills out tax forms for you.

    It’s all about getting your life back! Don’t rush into it, do your research and bring someone along to doctor visits to take notes. Always have your notes of questions in your hand so you don’t forget to ask. Seek pain management doctor if you are miserable in the interim.

  5. I completely relate and feel ducking hopeless most of the time. I’m a veteran who broke my back in Kuwait in 2003. I now work construction. I got to the point last year where I couldn’t even get out of bed without crawling out to the bathroom sink and using it to pull myself up. I recently had a 360 spinal fusion that last almost 13 hrs due to complications. They said that the complications came from the fact that I have a lot of muscle in my lower back that made it difficult and that due to the fact that I had not had surgery sooner my hips had rotated almost 45 degrees. I can stand easier now but I am in more pain than I ever was and my surgery was almost a year ago. I’ve gained almost 40 lbs. and am depressed which now effects my motivation to even keep trying. When I went to get operated on I had three herniated disks, two spinal fractures and my hips that had rotated. Now ever day in a struggle just to keep working but I do it because I had a family to support and can’t give up.

  6. I relate to his begining, but not the ending. I had a fusion done on my l5 and i cant get any reliefe. I was in less pain before the surgery. It sucks not having a life. Just the simple task of getting out of the bed in the morning is hard. I have to soak my back for at least an hour to get some relief which only last maybe for an hour. My surgion is recommending and epadural and im honestly scared. I feel im one medical mistake away from being put in a wheel chair. I only just want to be able to do the laundry with out pain. I cant even clean the house. I pick things up with my toes because it so painful to bend over. Im happy for him. I glad he got his life back. I want thst so bad too. Im 32 years old and im crippled. I hope some day ill have my life back.

  7. I suffered severe workplace injury, Slip / Fall over 10'. Fractured Jaw, Concussion, Knocked out , Landed on buttocks in sitting on steel trailer frame then fell to ground. Immediately went to emergency, with specific complaints , Tailbone – Mid Back – Jaw – PAIN. Because it was a workplace injury, I live in Canada everything possible was used by "Non-medical Workers Compensation claims adjusters to DENY, Physicians / specialists requests. I was "Deliberately "CRIPPLED" with lies and denials by workers compensation; Basically I was DELIBERATELY TORTURED by workers compensation which Government has given IMMUNITY to F-Over injured workers

  8. Is Medical Cannabis pills an oils really the right decision for your pain? (Also see my other surgical posting JR Chicago below about problems with fusions and options). The cannabis “stigma” is literally cultural and many would not ever be seen in a dispensary or using cannabis. It’s like, “those people” on other side of the tracks or a deviant vice. I used to think the deviant vice was the only way to think about it, by and large. Then my Pain physician really started recommending I try this explaining we have natural receptors for it. After two visits of professional badgering (humor), I finally gave in to a State Department of Health and Human Services program called the Opioid Alternative program that was available in 90 day increments for $10. The product is cash and costs about $8 a day if you average it out. It works the same day and that changes your mind really quick about all the old hangs ups and stigma. It’s like night and day “man” (sorry, just had to add some humor). If something works and is approved by a health department, it is what it is if it works for you.

    CBD oils around 60 to 70% with some THC seems to be the magic formula. The CBD masks the pain, the THC changes your priority to pay less attention to pain. Some say you might be a bit more charming… Considering people in pain are challenged to being charming to be around, the complement or the feeling is welcomed. I never feel out of mind. I don’t feel unsafe. I may feel tired more so before bed time and need that caffeinated coffee minutes when I get up. All I can say is it works and the negatives are de minimis. It also cuts down on opioid use and dose strength. I look at the massive out of pocket costs for Lyrica and it’s a bit better than cannabis, but not that good. I also cut down using Flector patches (the holy grail for night pain), but they costs me $300 a month. I found I could re-use the patches twice which cut costs. Lidoderm patches work too, but not as well as Flector patches. The point is, pain mitigation’s can be expensive so cannabis is an alternative.

    What we really do need is medical cannabis in capsule form in a small variety available at the pharmacy covered by insurance. The feds will at some point give in to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry who will have invested in synthetic cannabis and be ready to “roll it out” so to speak.

    Cannabis may not be suitable in THC if you travel from state to state where laws vary. International travel can be a problem too. Some countries will confiscate it and may fine you. I am sure there are some to arrest over this, I wonder, do they still spank feet in Turkey? (What movie was that?). The US inbound international customs vary. Officially it’s not permitted back in the US, so you take only what you will need for the trip as of this May 2019 posting. The idea is you don’t have any coming back in to declare in the US who commonly confiscate it and send you on your way unless the quantity is too much. I don’t know what happens for dog sniffing or random search finds it. There are some YouTube videos on Customs that probably the entire traveling public should watch for all the stupid things people try and get away with. Canada charged a woman $600 for bringing four avocados with her. The question is how to travel with cannabis, if at all right now.

    There are laws to consider with THC, such as driving and work policies especially if you operate machinery. Driving is allowed in States with medical or recreational use, but like alcohol, there are limits. The problem is they set these technical limits and you need to be a fricken doctor or chemist to start to understand them. If you feel any high, just don’t drive. Your weight, other meds, if you have not recently eaten, are tired or out too late, all are general factors that lead to problems outside of cannabis. If you add cannabis to being tired and not eating, etc. you have added a factor that may be a serious tipping point. You also need to know how much you can legally travel with. Many police departments can seize your vehicle and just take it from you, without legal recourse. A greedy police department who needs money is at complete control. This is certainly a part of the law that should be changed and is insulting. Why have no legal recourse at the mere election of an LE Department? It’s arrogant and anti-American and a resentment against excessive police powers and public policy and opinion. Makes one wonder if we have no rights after all if the policy makers just choose otherwise. Don’t believe me, watch Lehto’s Law on YOUTUBE.

    Also check out my postings just below this one about the problem with fusions and options of artificial discs that work just like your real disc. See JR Chicago.

  9. When I was 30yrs old I had a laminectomy 1980 then suffered for many years with sciatica then I went in had a l4 l5 fusion 2015 the day after I had a clot so opened up again since then I’ve been in agony with my legs & feet I can’t walk much I feel like I’m wearing tight shoes it’s so painful my back is excruciating if I stand in one place for a few minutes.
    I’m waiting to see a surgeon I don’t know what he will suggest if he suggests another op I’m not sure if I want to go through that again. I’m from the 🇬🇧

  10. Mine got so intense I wanted to shoot myself I'm not lying it felt like I got shot the first surgery failed the second was a fusion with a 18mm cage my facets were swollen my disc blew into 17 pieces if your legs don't hurt anymore that means it's successful if they hurt your screwed

  11. I wish I could do strongman I wish I had the screws that can't break there harder to get but are out there there's a vid on you tube screws pull truck the normal ones used snapped

  12. I was an Army Infantryman and did 2 tours in Iraq, and I was there in the very beginning. He is absolutely right that your body/spine takes a brutal beating. I've had 6 surgeries involving my lower back, one if which was a fusion. Also had lots of various therapies. I can't put into words how i feel every day. I hurt so much and i feel like it's killing me.

  13. Thank you and God bless you for your service. My daddy served 30 years, so I'm very pro-military and appreciate the United States military.
    I had a laminectomy, L4/5 posterior, interbody fusion on July 2nd. I'm doing well and look forward to getting my life back as well. Personally, I praise Jesus for our healings!

  14. I wish you all the best and I will call this Clinic I just underwent 20 back surgeries and fusions and I am crippled up now and so full of pain I can't get out of bed so thank you so much for the message and take care

  15. Hey I had s/f 4,5,6 almost 3weeks ago and I'm doing very good I'm a bit worried about one thing. Toight had an interesting thing happen to one of my thumbs …so it was bad before surgery but tonight it suddenly "felt " numb again not quite like before but similar. I'm wondering if its is the nerves starting to do the things they are meant to do- and hadnt done for many years before surgery … and maybe I'm connecting this feeling with what I've experienced the most of (15years) and more recently as well eccept tonight. What do you think?

  16. Update 28th July 2019 I saw a different surgeon I had a CT scan two of the screws were misplaced and I’m having all the (scaffolding) out,he explained that it’s a bigger than my previous op as all of the lumber needs fusion Im to see him again in two weeks time.wish me luck!!!

  17. People never give up…but the pain does take its toll. You get the life sucked out of you. Even after recovery the scars are there..but at the end of the day you dont care because anything is better than that pain

  18. Anyone considering a first spinal surgery should be cautious. Im 55 and like this gentleman in the video am a 6 year Army vet. I also ran a tree cutting business for many years and was very fit and healthy. I developed back pain after a car accident and it was pretty uncomfortable. I had surgery to alleviate pain shooting down my left leg. Fellt good after the first week and then it went really bad. I cannot explain enough about the pain I experienced. I was taken to the hospital and kept on morphine for a couple of days…it didnt help much honestly. This is month 8. Any movement can set off pain. Im in bed most of the day. 3 nuerosurgeons later they want to fuse my spine. I feel like i could not take that pain again. If your have back pain I would suggest any other type of treatment other than surgery. The pain you could be in could be far worse than you have now

  19. I have mild scoliosis but when you see the xray you can really see the curve like its so obvious and my body is starting to deform its painful physically i just wanna get a surgery but its scary and expensive

  20. My aunt suffered from back pain which may be due to various reasons like sitting jobs, lifting heavy weights, and lack of exercise or maybe by doing the wrong exercise. Then he used Joint Aid Plus, Kaishore guggul, Lakshadi guggul and Yograj guggul of “Planet Ayurveda”.These products show great results.

  21. I too suffer from chronic back pain, L4-5. I have been going to therapy for well over 1 years but it just seems to get worse. I work hard at therapy. I am a Vietnam Era Vet, but my pain has come from a horrific accident back in 1991, where I had over 3,000 pounds of steel and concrete fall on me, luckily I was crossing a deep ditch when it happens, otherwise, I would be dead. My BP dropped to zero, because of the loss of blood. I have been fused from C-3 to C-7. Now at age 74, the accident is haunting me daily.

  22. , I know I need a FUSION SURGERY, I have had 2 back surgerys (one on each side) LAMINECTOMIES L5 S1 but the Surgeon said that I am to young for a FUSION, I am 52, so I'm going to keep having tests and going to different SURGEONS until one will help me,so in the meantime I am in MISERY, JAMES

  23. For sure man, I hear ya. It is the most debilitating and pain like no other (I'm 70 years old and have had my share of pain) Vietnam Vet, several jobs (labor-intensive) loading 100# bags in a boxcar stacking them 10 high. When your young you think your stronger then you are, and now at 70 I look back with a wiser brain and say, "WTF were you thinking dude? So at age 55, I started going to a chiropractor, then at about 61, I started in on pain meds and whatever would relieve the pain. at age 68, the pain medication only relieves some of the pain. There were times the pain was so bad I thought, I don't want to live the rest of my life in this much pain and back surgery was for me was a big, big decision. So at 70 years old, I'm post back surgery 1 month, and I seem to gradually get better but time will tell, I still have some pain, especially in my left leg. I'm just hoping it's not FBSS, (never knew this could happen until after surgery) this is something that might make you wish you never had back surgery. One other thing, thank God for pain killers, I don't think the FDA or any government entity gives a sh%$ about a persons pain and they went after this supposed opioid crisis blindfolded as usual. and I betcha Fentanyl use will get out of control…It seems like the person that's never had any pain in his life gets to make the rules and fail the people again. And Richard thank you for your service….

  24. Nowadays many people suffering from Backache. To get rid of these problems use Ayurvedic remedies of “Planet Ayurveda”. It includes Joint Aid Plus, Kaishore guggul, Lakshadi guggul and Yograj guggul which are really very effective and help you to get rid of backache.

  25. Hi Richard – I was just released after my l4/l5 fusion… it’s going on the third day now. My question is – were you in pain or felt the pain got worse as the days passed then you slowly healed?

  26. I didn't have a choice or say, was hit by a semi over 2 yrs ago, besides a broken femur fixed with a rod & screws, my worse injury by far is my cervical posterior fusion 3-4 levels, 2 rods 10 screws.
    My neurosurgeon only ever said "you're neck is stable", "you scared your spinal cord" right arm and leg effects from that.
    I wish I knew a surgeon that could fix my neck and use artificial disc, but they say fusions are permanent..
    Can't sit upright long or walk long..over 2 yrs.
    I went from working over 50 hrs a week on my feet all day too near no activities..and pain everyday..

  27. Hi there,, my husband had triple cervical anterior spine fusion,, it's way too painful for him now it's just 4 days of his surgery he z so uncomfortable. So heartbreaking to see him in this situation

  28. I had diastometomyelia surgery. 11 years ago. Lumbar scoliosis has still been with me. 5 months back I was diagnosed with lumbar disc herniation. I suffered sciatica. I got cured from it a month back. After riding bike , I fell on piriformis syndrome. Just six months back I was considerably active. I hope I will get back to the track soon but there is a threat that I may relapse.

  29. My leggs were on fire so bad i almost shot myself no one will no that pain its like being shot the pain never ever left ever i went a yr like that my core legs and everything got weak . Now im stronger after a fusion and cage.

  30. I’m about to have surgery lumbar fusion on my back but I feel like I shouldn’t. I told the doctor that I want to try injection first but they told me that it will not work so surgery is the best option…what do you guys think?? I don’t want to go thru surgery because i know that removing a disk won’t grow back

  31. I can 100% relate to you dude. I had spinal surgery and it caused me to lose my leg usage. They then had to try fix it , they weren’t able to fix it for years. Only a year ago they were able to fix it and I can now walk and live like a normal person.

  32. If you have a vehicle you can lay down in for the trip you might be able to do what you did but most people don't have that option so the have to have the surgery done close to home,and if your husband was a veteran he would have had to gone to a VA hospital unless the surgeon your recommending here footed the tens of thousands it cost for the surgery

  33. I've had a 6yeat journey with my back pain, so many Injections. Now im have a fusions of L5-S1. Im scared for the pain surgery will bring but hope to have a good outcome. Thanks for sharing your story.

  34. 🤔 I just checked John Hopkins Ortho department web page and it lists “doctor” Newman not a surgeon but a physician assistant to Dr. Uma Srikumaran.
    I am perplexed, since when PAs can do surgery, especially these type of complex and highly skilled ones?

  35. 100 % no pain ? no stiffness ? running ? i have L5 s1 sars fracture , pain every mooring after activities . plz update dr, suggested me same fusion surgery m scared . same time m pain everyday..

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