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Vail-Summit Orthopaedics spine surgeon Dr. Greg Poulter sat down with Bill Walton in July when the NBA Hall of Famer was in Vail for a community talk on back pain. Bill recently suffered from debilitating chronic back and leg pain, which nearly compromised his job as a TV analyst and left him unable to walk, sit, or drive a car. Bill found relief after undergoing the minimally disruptive XLIF® (eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion) procedure and is now supporting other back and leg pain sufferers as a Patient Ambassador for The Better Way Back.®
Dr. Poulter, who is among an estimated 10 to 15 percent of spine surgeons nationwide performing XLIF, is the only surgeon in the Vail Valley who performs the procedure.
Here is a transcript of Dr. Poulter's conversation with Bill Walton:
Dr. Poulter: If you could go back and either tell your previous self or someone who’s in that same situation, where you're having back pain, you’re having leg pain, and you're starting to try things that haven’t worked, whether it's a lot of physical therapy or injections, what would be your advice or what would be your message to someone in that situation?
Bill Walton: Education is the key to all of our problems. When we have trouble, we have to learn more to overcome the fear. I was terrified; I was not going to let anybody operate on my spine because I never talked to anybody, not one person, who had a positive thing to say about spine surgery. What’s happened in the world of spine healthcare over just the last six years has just been incredible in terms of these medical device companies such as NuVasive in San Diego who are just driving this revolution and changing everything with the minimally invasive techniques and all the new equipment.
Dr. Poulter: A lot of times I'm asked by patients, “How do I know if I'm ready for surgery? Why do it now versus wait?” There does seem to be a moment when people realize that it's time, can you speak to that?
Bill Walton: Everybody waits too long because you always think you’re going to get better. I wish I knew then what I know now.
Dr. Poulter: You’ve have an amazing career, basketball, commentating, you’ve been an MVP, Hall of Fame. But now you're here spending your time with us sharing your story about back pain. What is it that makes you so passionate about sharing your story?
Bill Walton: I’m lucky Dr. Poulter, because you and your partners and your team, you’ve given me my life, but with that comes a responsibility that I have and the duty and the obligation to look around at these other people who are terrified and who are right now where I used to be. And so it’s our job, as patients, as advocates, as a support group and organization with “A Better Way Back”, to come and work with these people on both sides because it's tough coming in, it’s tough going out, and you’re right in the middle and we can never thank you enough. Oh my gosh, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.