Spinal Fusion


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2017 was supposed to be the year I did things differently and stayed injury and incident free. Getting cut off by a car whilst riding on the 31st of December, in what was a lucky get off in the end, really sent this message home. I welcomed in the New Year, put the injury drama of 2016 behind me, and was ready to stay consistent.

My goal race for January was like most on home soil; the 70.3 in East London. I was probably way too fit and fresh for this time of year, but considering my lack of racing over the last few months I was easily motivated and very keen to go and defend my title in Slummies.

With a very solid block of training behind me and the morning swim set done, I headed off on my last longer 4hr ride at 10am on the Saturday before race week. Confident in my prep and even grateful for the position I found myself in, I was heading towards Franschhoek to do some hill reps up the pass, a session and a route that I have done numerous times before. Anyone who has ridden along the R44 between Helshoogte Pass and Franschhoek would know it as a very safe cycling route by South African standards and one used by many a triathlete and cyclist.

Recent experience on this same road had made me a little more wary, but it’s still hard to imagine yourself being in danger in the middle of the day on a flat road with clear visibility and a large yellow emergency lane to ride in.

Nevertheless after about an hour of riding, I found myself going from TT position on my bike to double back flip in the air before my brain had the chance to realise what the hell was happening. Hitting the ground and trying to register my surroundings was pretty surreal, the thoughts I had at this stage were what the f… what the f… and, just lie still.

There were pedestrians who were shouting to “stop that car” and someone else saying “don’t worry the number plate is here”. Thankfully, someone came to my aid pretty quickly and reassured me that I should just keep lying as I was. Again, very luckily, an ambulance and police vehicles were very nearby. Apparently the driver of the Hyundai Getz that hit me, a 78 year lady, was in as much shock as I was and couldn’t remember what had happened. One pedestrian thought that she might have moved into the emergency lane to let another car past. Once loaded into the ambulance and lying on my back I could feel that besides the burn of the road rash, my back was also pretty uncomfortable. I was taken to the Stellenbosch Mediclinic where X-rays, followed by an MRI, confirmed that I had sustained a compression fracture of my L1 vertebra. This was most likely caused by the initial impact with the bonnet and windshield of the car and then torn spinal ligaments from excessive rotational force as I flew through the air and hit the ground. Because of the torn ligaments the only option was to then go into surgery and fuse the T12 – L2 vertebra together or risk having a bent back for the rest of my life.

Thankfully one of the country’s best spinal surgeons lives in Stellenbosch. Johan and his team were able to operate the very next morning. Besides the 4 screws and two interconnecting rods they also packed in some donor bone to make the area more structurally intact.

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While I would love to be able tell of this huge successful recovery story, there is no rushing this healing process unfortunately. No doubt being fit and healthy has made a big difference in how long it has taken me to get up and about and mobile and off the pain meds, but one still has to wait for the bone to grow back properly and stabilise the spine completely. So, for now and until 6 weeks post op, I am limited to walking only with no rotational movement, which has taken swimming off the table for the time being.

As frustrating as it is, it takes an accident like this to truly appreciate the support that you have around you. The number of messages and well wishes we have received have been overwhelming and have made the last few weeks that much easier. I also now realise how lucky I was to come away as lightly as I did from such a collision, getting out of the house and just walking has never felt so good.

My first few months of rehab will probably be spent trying to get my lower back strong enough to support the impact of the fused vertebra above it and then it will be onto the anti-gravity treadmill and back in the pool to learn how to swim again. At least I should have a nice flat back that can’t snake through the water. It will no doubt be a long road back but being just a little more mobile and flexible than the day before is motivation enough at this stage and at the moment I am strangely looking forward to the journey and challenges that lie ahead of me.

 

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