The road back to health
Trying to manage the pain was Joseph’s life. Then he found relief at Markham Stouffville Hospital.
Every morning, after two hours of sleep, Joseph would crawl to the breakfast table and cry. “The pain was terrible. There’s no other way to describe it. It was really bad,” he says.
Joseph was 18 years old when he experienced back pain for the first time. Over the years, it got progressively worse. By the time he was in his early 50s, Joseph was in chronic pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t function. I had a business to run and that’s hard to do when you’re in pain all the time,” he admits.
The 59-year-old father of three was diagnosed with spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal column. Joseph’s spinal cord and sciatic nerve were being compressed. The result was intense pain from Joseph’s hips to his toes.
Joseph tried everything from acupuncture to steroid injections, but nothing worked. In the last two years, he couldn’t attend weddings or other functions. He couldn’t exercise and had to give up martial arts – a huge part of his life.
In 2021, Joseph’s doctor referred him to the Rapid Access Clinic for Low Back Pain at Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH). Joseph met with the practice leader and physiotherapist, who reviewed his history and did a complete assessment including a CT scan and MRI.
“The practice leader examined every square inch of my back,” Joseph recalls. “He outlined exactly what was happening, where the problem was and what my options were. He was a wealth of knowledge.”
He explained that Joseph’s best option was surgery and referred him to Dr. Kevin Koo, orthopaedic surgeon at MSH. That first appointment was a turning point in Joseph’s life. “Dr. Koo’s recommendations were exceptional so I was already confident by the time I met him,” says Joseph. “Dr. Koo told me everything about the surgery and assured me I was going to feel better. To hear someone at his level tell me I was going to be okay was a blessing.”
The staff at Markham Stouffville Hospital really care. It was such a positive experience from start to finish and I can’t thank them enough. They restored my quality of life.
Joseph had his surgery six weeks after his last appointment with Dr. Koo. A staff member walked him into the operating room and Dr. Koo introduced Joseph to the surgical team. “Let’s do this,” Joseph said.
The surgery took five to six hours. Dr. Koo opened up Joseph’s spinal column and rebuilt three discs in his spine. “My back is fused now. I’m actually a quarter of an inch taller because they had to lift and reposition my discs so they’re aligned again,” Joseph explains.
Dr. Koo warned Joseph he would feel like he was “kicked in the back by a horse” when he woke up from surgery. So, Joseph expected to be in pain – after all it was something he was used to. What he didn’t expect was for the familiar, excruciating pain in his lower back and legs to be gone.
“I wiggled my toes to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed because I didn’t feel anything,” Joseph recalls. “It was the first time in two years I woke up without pain in my legs. And I started to cry.”
Later that day, a nurse got Joseph up and walking with a walker. He even climbed a flight of stairs. That was the beginning of Joseph’s recovery. He spent four days at MSH receiving the very best care. “I have nothing but good things to say about all the people at the hospital. Anytime I needed something they were right there,” Joseph says.
Back on his feet
It took two months for the incision to heal. In the meantime, Joseph did physiotherapy to strengthen his back and legs. Within a month of his surgery, he was walking 10,000 steps a day. Within a year, he was running 10 kilometres and this past spring, he completed a 10K run in support of MSH with his family.
“I’m running. I’m training. I have a granddaughter I can pick up without any pain at all,” says Joseph. “I’m doing things I never thought I’d be able to do again. I can’t thank Dr. Koo, and the entire team at MSH enough. They gave me a second chance, and they did it in such a giving and loving way.”
Dr. Koo and all the talented health care professionals at MSH don’t do it alone. They rely on the generosity of caring donors like you to make their work possible. Your support ensures they have access to the latest equipment and technology to diagnose conditions, treat patients and save and restore lives.
“Please keep giving,” Joseph urges. “There’s a need for your support. Amazing work is being done at MSH and it is life-altering.”
Joseph and family