Hear What Patients Have to Say: Rafael Rodriguez’s Inspirational Success Story with Titan Spine's Endoskeleton® Implant

Rafael Rodriguez and Dr. Slosar
Dr. Paul Slosar and Rafael Rodriguez, Jr. at the
We've Got Your Back race in San Francisco on
September 14, 2013 (where he placed first in his age group!)

"I have done well because I took it upon myself to create my own success with the right doctor, the right implant and the right faith in myself." Before being diagnosed with a herniated disc that caused pain and numbness in his right leg and foot, Rafael Rodriguez was an active teacher and weekend warrior. When Rafael's intense pain threatened his well-being, recovering his health became his biggest challenge. Rafael took on this challenge with impressive determination and a positive attitude. Dr. Paul Slosar performed Rafael's surgery in April, 2013 using a Titan Spine Endoskeleton® Implant. Today, Rafael says, "I have not only gone back to the person I was before surgery, I feel even better than I did in 2011."

Rafael Rodriguez, Jr.:

  • Active teacher since 2005, fitness enthusiast, weekend warrior
  • Diagnosed with herniated disc, causing pain and numbness in his right leg and foot, as well as a fractured L4 vertebra
  • Suffered intense, debilitating pain
  • Discectomy and interbody fusion surgery with Titan implant in April, 2013
  • At 12 weeks post-surgery, completed a 5K running 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."

Describe yourself before the back pain started.
"I would describe myself as a weekend warrior, including softball and paintball. My favorite thing is running around with all the kids. I also coached flag football. I was very active, things were great."

When did you start experiencing pain?
"I started experiencing pain in 2006. The pain started in my right hip and then extended to the area between my lower back and upper buttocks. The pain was intermittent and no big deal. I would throw down some ibuprofen and things would be okay. Then the pain started increasing, and I began to limp once in a while. I noticed I couldn't play with the kids, my activity lowered, and I started gaining weight."

"In 2011, everything blew up and the real pain set in. Friends said my attitude had changed. I was depressed, but I was trying to put on a show for the kids at school who wanted to see me smiling and happy every day. That is when I decided to make a change in my life. A friend gave me a free 3-week pass to a gym. I had a competitive bug in me that could not be deterred no matter how depressed I became. I started going to the gym and began quickly dropping weight."

What did you do to try to reduce or control your pain?
"I bought a two-year membership as a gift to myself. I continued to drop weight, started entering triathlons, and my back pain was under control. I did a full season of five or six triathlons. I started training hard for my second season in 2012 with the goal of completing a half Ironman. Unfortunately, two weeks before my first race, the pain came back and it stayed. I thought I was going to get over the pain and was determined to do the race. I raced hard, got a "flat tire," but was happy with my time. However, right after the race, I couldn't walk and collapsed. I was told by the medical staff at the race that my muscles were very tight in my back and my hamstrings were locked up."

Describe the decision to undergo surgery?
"I stopped riding my bike, but continued to work out. When I started getting numbness in my foot, I went to see a back specialist, who referred me to see Dr. Paul Slosar, a spine surgeon with SpineCare Medical Group. Dr. Slosar had me get a CT scan and MRI and diagnosed me with a Spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebra) at L5/S1, as well as a herniated disc and fractured L4 vertebra. The herniation was compressing my sciatic nerve, causing pain and numbness in my right leg and foot. He felt my only treatment option was surgery, and he recommended a two-level fusion from L4 to S1 using a Titan Spine Endoskeleton® implant. I was determined to have my back fixed, since there was no medicine or rest that would make me better. It was a blessing to find Dr. Slosar. He had all the answers I needed and was straight to the point."

"I stopped running, riding my bike, and lifting weights. I focused on swimming in an attempt to delay having surgery until my foot went completely numb one day while in the pool. I started walking with a cane and would hide it at school because I was embarrassed and didn't want the kids to see me using it. I knew I had to do something. Dr. Slosar then gave me an epidural injection in December 2012 that would hopefully buy me time until my surgery during spring break in April 2013. The pain was initially excruciating at first, but then five days later, I was surprised that I could get out of bed like a normal human being!"

How did you prepare for surgery?
"For the next four months, I decided to "train" for surgery by treating it like a triathlon. I was worried about being sedentary after surgery; so I decided to train so that my body would better handle my recovery process. Dr. Slosar told me to train if it did not hurt, since I knew my body well enough not to take it too far. I rode my bike, swam, and lifted, but did not run. I swam until the day before my surgery. I told my doctors that one day I would run again, although they had doubts that I would be able to run at my previous level. I was full of willpower and not willing to concede defeat."

"When I told my students I was having surgery, they cried and wrote me notes. My class mantra was 'I believe in myself.' My kids repeated that back to me. I used Spine-health.com videos to explain my surgery to them in my class."

"I also prepared for surgery by learning about the interbody fusion implant I was going to receive. Dr. Slosar gave me information on Titan Spine's Endoskeleton® TA device and explained that he preferred to use that particular device because he felt that it would allow me to recover sooner."

How did you feel after surgery?
"Immediately after surgery there wasn't the slightest bit of numbness. I had no pain in my back, and I could feel my toes! Dr. Slosar walked into my hospital room with the biggest grin on his face. He said, 'I don't care what you say, but there is no way you could have any pain now. You had very little left of your disc, and practically all of it was pinching your sciatic nerve. We were able to remove all of it.' And he was right. The pain I had been feeling prior to surgery was gone."

Describe your recovery while in the hospital.
"I got up on the first day. People in my support group had warned me of excruciating pain, but I was able to get up on the first day. And by day two, I was already walking around the halls. On day three, I started walking up 10-12 steps in a stairway. My nurses kept reminding me that I had just undergone spine surgery and wanted me to take it easy, but I was ready for more. The telling sign about Dr. Slosar, my Titan implant, and my surgery, is that there were 10-12 other people who also had spine surgery with fusions on our floor, and only me and two others were able to get up and be mobile in the days following surgery."

Describe your recovery after you left the hospital.
"I began walking up to a mile or so at a time. I didn't feel the pain that everyone else experienced in my support group. I would take Vicodin and Oxycodone and use an ice vest to control the pain and allow me to be functional. I was on pain meds for about three months, although I didn't take as much pain medicine as prescribed and stopped taking Oxycodone after three weeks. Finally, I simply started taking meds on an as-needed basis."

Rafael Rodriguez

Describe your life today.
"I have not only gone back to the person I was before surgery, I feel even better than I did in 2011. My running has improved, although I notice a change in my stride since I run more upright now. I seem to have lost my extra gear to sprint, but my pace has increased. My swimming is good, my biking is good, and my running is better. I do Pilates and a lot of core work. The 'spondy' caused weakness in my right leg, but it’s getting there. I am better than the average guy. Three months after the surgery, I entered a 5K race on the 4th of July. I was supposed to walk it; however, there was a guy in front of me pushing his two kids in a stroller who was beating me. I started to jog slowly, and then I ran. I finished in 38 minutes. I could run the flat parts and uphill, but downhill was painful. My 'spondy' group went nuts and couldn't believe I did it. That’s when I contacted Dr. Slosar again. He said I was okay to continue pushing it as long as it didn't hurt."

Rafael Rodriguez after Race

"I then started setting goals for myself. Before my surgery, I decided that I was going to compete in the We've Got Your Back 4.5-mile race following my recovery in September. Only five months following surgery, I took first in my age group and 10th place overall. At that moment, I felt that my life was back. I broke down in tears. I felt I had been given a new life. I had 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, despite the fact that spine surgery can seem scary. There is hope. I not only did well because I was active before surgery, but I also did well because I took it upon myself to create my own success with the right doctor, the right implant, and the right faith in myself. I still have bad days, but when I add up all the positive days, they outnumber the negative days. My college professor once said, 'We all have road blocks. You can choose to let those road blocks beat you down or you can choose to succeeded despite your roadblocks.' My roadblocks have tested me and made me stronger."

"I want others to run, live pain-free, and be successful."
Brenna Poole - founder of the spondy group online in Facebook.

Download an Endoskeleton Fact Sheet and Discussion Guide (PDF)
Physician Interview
Peter Ullrich
Click here to read the Surgeon Perspective: Peter Ullrich, MD, Discusses Titan Spine’s Endoskeleton
Physician Interview
Paul Slosar
Click here to read the Surgeon Perspective: Paul Slosar, MD, Discusses Titan Spine’s Endoskeleton
Patient Interview
Craig Cotton
Click here to read the Patient Perspective: Craig Cotton – Engineer, Patient, Father, Fitness Enthusiast - Appleton, WI