Stacey's Story

Stacey, herniated disc patient

Stacey, herniated disc patient

"I graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1992 with a degree in physical therapy and athletic training. While in clinical practice at the UW Sports Medicine Center, I met a patient who had a goal of completing a triathlon. Our therapy sessions kindled a friendship and she eventually convinced me to participate in a triathlon with her.

"My first race took place in June of 1995 and by October of that year I completed my first Ironman™ in Florida," says Stacey. An Ironman is a triathlon that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

"The Ironman fever took hold and I hired Jim Bruskewitz as my coach. Jim is a world champion who resides in Madison. The 1996 season was a spectacular experience, taking me to places like San Francisco for the infamous Alcatraz Triathlon, and to Penticton, British Columbia for Ironman Canada.

"But 1997 was the pinnacle of my career. I travelled coast to coast, racing most weekends from June through August in places like Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, and California. In June, I competed in the Vineman Triathlon, an Ironman in Santa Rosa, California, and finished fifth overall for women and first place in my age group (25-29) with a time of 10 hours and 54 minutes."

"I did not race in 1998 as our daughter Camille was born in October. I did race shorter Olympic distance triathlons in 1999, including the National Championships in Florida. 2000 was a quiet year as well, as we welcomed the birth of our son, Wyatt, in November," adds Stacey.

Living with Pain

"My plans to return to the Ironman circuit were altered in December of 2001 when I was involved in a car accident. Although the accident was relatively minor, it was followed by another rear-end collision 6 weeks later. Unknown to me at that time, the two successive accidents resulted in a large central herniation of cervical disc C6-C7."

A herniated disc occurs when the outer lining that surrounds the disc tears and the soft centre squeezes out through the opening, creating a "herniated," "slipped," or "ruptured” disc. Once a tear has occurred, everyday activities, such as flexion and extension of the neck, can cause the disc's nucleus to push through the outer lining. This can place pressure on spinal nerves and cause pain.

"On the heels of my car accidents, Ironman North America announced their plans to have an inaugural race right here in Madison, and I was not about to miss it. I signed up and attempted to train. Unfortunately, I was unable to run a distance greater than 3 miles before the pain became unbearable. I could swim, but was only able to breathe to the right as my range of motion to the left was severely restricted.

"Biking was out of the question, as I could not assume the cervical position required to ride in aerobars. Nonetheless, I had signed up for the Ironman and I was not about to accept a DNF (did not finish), or a DNS (did not start) for that matter. So, in September of 2002, I attempted the Ironman with virtually no training and with a complete herniation of my C6-C7 disc. It wasn't pretty," says Stacey.

"As far as treatment, I had some physical therapy, many massages, medicines including Tylenol® and ibuprofen, and I also had some lidocaine injections in my left upper neck muscles. The pain was intense. I dreaded mornings as I was unable to lift my head up off the pillow and my first few steps were always unsteady. I had grown accustomed to a constant headache that could not be remedied by over-the-counter medications."

Road to Recovery

"In April of 2003, I decided to have surgery to treat the herniated disc. I chose to participate in an artificial disc replacement clinical trial and received the Prestige® Cervical Disc. Dr. Thomas Zdeblick at the University Of Wisconsin Hospital performed the surgery.

"Since my artificial disc replacement surgery, I have competed in various events including Ironman Switzerland. As for what's next… who knows?"

This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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