After a day of boogie boarding on Kauai, where he had moved nine months ago, Dr. Mark Foster woke up in a lot of pain.
“I don’t remember any specific incident at the beach,” says the 42-year old primary care physician, “but by the next morning I could tell that the old disc injury in my neck had flared up.” During the next two weeks, he developed progressive pain in his neck, as well as numbness and weakness in his left arm. “The pain made it so I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate at work, and could barely turn my neck, which made driving difficult,” he says. “But what really frightened me was my left arm, which just felt dead,” he says. An MRI showed a herniated disc pushing on his spinal cord. Because there are no neurosurgeons or spine surgeons on Kauai, the former Littleton resident flew to Denver to see a neurosurgeon friend in the metro Denver area.
“My friend reviewed the MRI, examined me, and told me that I was a good candidate for total disc replacement (TDR). He said sooner rather than later, or else I could develop permanent damage in my arm,” says Dr. Foster. “He recommended that I consult with Michael Janssen, DO, with the Center for Spine and Orthopedics, for this procedure, because Dr. Janssen has done thousands of TDRs and was involved in the initial studies.”
Dr. Foster was able to see Dr. Janssen right away. After reviewing the MRI, the world renowned spine surgeon agreed that Dr. Foster needed to get his disc fixed right away. Dr. Janssen explained all the possible options to the physician. “I felt in very capable hands,” says Dr. Foster. “As a physician, I know what to look for in a surgeon. So when I talked to Dr. Janssen, I knew I had found my guy—qualified, competent and confident. I know that the number of procedures a surgeon has performed is usually one of the best predictors of a good outcome, and Dr. Janssen has done as many TDRs as anyone in the country.”
Spinal fusion was also an option for Dr. Foster, but he had seen too many patients in his own practice develop early arthritis above and below the joint after fusion, requiring more levels to be fused later on. “I’m a relatively young patient for this sort of surgery, with a young active family, and I plan on remaining active for a long time,” he says. “That’s why I chose disc arthroplasty.”
On November 14, Dr. Janssen performed cervical disc decompression and total disc replacement between Dr. Foster’s C6 and C7 vertebrae, using an anterior approach. “He removed multiple fragments of my existing disc, and replaced it with an artificial disc,” explains the physician. “That took the pressure off the nerve.”
The procedure lasted about 90 minutes. When Dr. Foster awoke from anesthesia, his neck pain was gone, and his arm felt alive again. “It was as if my neck was a garden hose that had been crimped. Surgery removed the crimp,” he says. “I felt life flowing back into my arm.” The next morning, Dr. Foster was discharged from the Musculoskeletal Surgery Center, which is conveniently located next door to Dr. Janssen’s practice. Both Dr. Janssen and the anesthesiologist, Dr. John Berman, checked on Dr. Foster the morning after surgery. “It’s uncommon for an anesthesiologist to check on you after surgery. I could tell that I was more than just a number to Dr. Berman,” says Dr. Foster. “And I could not have had a better surgeon than Dr. Janssen.”
One week after surgery, Dr. Foster flew back to Kauai, just in time for Thanksgiving with his family. And within two weeks of surgery, he returned to work at his clinic, where he cares for Kauai’s underserved population. He looks forward to doing all the sports and activities that he and his family enjoy. Within six weeks after surgery, he expects to be cleared for anything else he wants to do. That’s important to this father of three active children, two of them teenagers, who love outdoor adventures.
“There are a lot of waterfalls in Kauai,” says Dr. Foster. “I asked Dr. Janssen if it would be safe for me to jump off of a 30-foot one. He said that should be fine, as long as I don’t do anything too crazy, and to wait at least six weeks after surgery.” Dr. Foster smiles and continues, “I’m pain–free and I have my life and my future back. I’m so happy with my outcome.”