Rafael Rodriguez is an inspiration to anyone considering undergoing spine fusion surgery. We are sharing his story to give people who are facing spine fusion surgery hope.

See Lumbar Spinal Fusion Surgery

Rafael was active until he began to have pain in his right hip that extended into his lower back and down his upper buttocks. Read more: What You Need to Know About Sciatica.

A tough diagnosis

Before his fusion surgery, Rafael, a teacher, described himself as a “weekend warrior” and fitness enthusiast. In 2006, he started to experience intermittent pain in his right hip which extended to the area between his lower back and upper buttocks. He continued his active lifestyle, “pushing through” the pain and coping by taking ibuprofen.

See NSAIDs: Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

In 2011 the intermittent pain he had been feeling in his low back since 2006 became debilitating, and he went to see Dr. Paul Slosar, a spine specialist with SpineCare Medical Group. Dr. Slosar diagnosed him with spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebra) at L5-S1, as well as a herniated disc and fractured L4 vertebra.

Rafael's herniated disc was compressing his sciatic nerve, causing radiating pain and numbness in his leg.
Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Dr. Slosar recommended that Rafael undergo a discectomy and interbody fusion.

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Facing surgery

He chose to use a titanium implant for the fusion, because he felt it would help Rafael’s body recover sooner. Rafael prepared for the surgery mentally and physically, because he understood that preparing well would also help him recover faster.

See Preoperative Preparation for Spine Fusion Surgery

Immediately after the surgery, Rafael felt better, and Dr. Slosar confirmed that the surgery had been a success. By day 3 after the surgery, Rafael was walking the hallways of the hospital, determined to get moving as soon as possible.

See Spinal Fusion Surgery Recovery: After Discharge (Three to Six Days)

Once he was home, he slowing began walking, getting up to a mile or so at time. To stay mobile, he relied on his pain meds, Vicodin and Oxycodone, and he used an ice vest. By around 3 weeks after the surgery, he was off his regular pain meds, and only used them on an as-needed basis.

See One to Four Weeks After Spine Fusion Surgery

Recovery and healing

Rafael continued to push himself physically with the support of Dr. Slosar. He completed a 5K running race 12 weeks after his surgery, and he started to bike and swim. Today he is competing in triathlons, and he is using his experience to encourage others online and in person.

See Practical Advice for Recovering from Back Surgery

In his own words, Rafael describes how he felt after his first race:

"I felt I had been given a new life. I have been given another chance. Because of this journey, I have become more spiritual and learned about my purpose. I respect what I have and appreciate all that has been given to me. This has had a huge effect on my life, and I want others to have confidence in spine surgery, despite it being a bit scary."

Rafael credits his surgeon with helping him get active again after suffering from spondylolisthesis.
Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Rafael credits his spine fusion surgery, his titanium implant, and the medical team behind it all with helping him to go from walking with a cane back to his normal active life.

To connect with Rafael, visit his Facebook page.

We know most of you probably won’t go on to run an Ironman after a fusion surgery like Rafael. The message here is that with the right preparation, there is hope that you will be able to return to the things you love to do after your surgery.

Learn more:

Types of Spinal Fusion

Interbody Fusion - ALIF, PLIF and XLIF