For four long years, Wayne Johnson suffered with severe back pain, the result of a badly deteriorated disc.
He gave up golf and scuba diving, activities he once enjoyed. He quit gardening. He avoided driving. And because he couldn’t exercise, he started putting on pounds.
“I needed painkillers just to get through the day,” recalls Johnson, 45, of Wilmington. “Even with my medication, I seldom slept for more than a few hours at a time at night.”
Spinal injections of cortisone helped for a while. But the pain always returned. Johnson leads a groundskeeping team at the University of Delaware and it was increasingly difficult for him to do his job.
In 2012, Johnson and his wife were expecting a baby and he wondered if his back problems would impact his ability to be an active dad.
“Would I be able to get down on the floor and wrestle with my son?” he asked. “Would I be able to give him a piggyback ride?”
His orthopedic surgeon, J. Rush Fisher, M.D., recommended a Total Disc Replacement or TDR, in which the damaged disc is removed and replaced with an artificial disc.
“It looks like two Oreo cookies stacked on top of one another,” Johnson says.
A newer treatment, TDR helps patients to regain their range of motion and get relief from pain.
“It is a good option for someone like me, who is in his 40s,” he says. “I feel very fortunate that Christiana Care offers this kind of advanced treatment.”
Within a day of surgery, Johnson was out of bed and taking his first steps on the road to recovery. Within two days, he was home and walking with a cane.
He was an active partner in his care, giving up smoking to help speed the healing process. He learned to rely on the muscles in his legs to lift objects to avoid another injury to his back. He started shedding the weight he had gained, going from 208 pounds to 180.
“I feel like I’m back in my 30s,” he says. “I’m in the gym four days a week, doing 225-pound squats.”
Johnson is on the job at UD, maintaining landscaping on campus. He also is enjoying family life with his wife and baby. The pain is completely gone.
“In the past six months, I have taken two Advil — and that was for a headache,” he says. “I used to live in constant pain — and now I am happier than I have ever been in my whole life.”