Athlete returns to golf after three-level cervical disc replacement

In college, life-long athlete James Letchinger, 60, of Chicago, decided to try rugby. He had already mastered basketball, soccer, and golf, and a new sport seemed like an interesting challenge. Although Letchinger enjoyed this new, very physical game, he sustained a neck injury on the field that would one day put him under the care of one of the most technically gifted spine surgeons in the country.

“All I cared about was sports,” Letchinger explains. “I played through pain most of my life and ignored most of my bumps and bruises.”

As time went on, he turned his athletic focus to the game of golf and experienced small ‘flare-ups’ of pain. “About six years ago I began to have constant pain in my neck and shoulder on the course, but I just didn’t do anything about it,” he says. “I never wanted to stop playing.”

Time to address the pain

That is until pain and numbness got so bad, he had to stop. In the winter of 2022, he was struggling to swing a golf club.  “My wife saw how unhappy I was and encouraged me to see a spine specialist,” Letchinger explains.

He researched the best spine surgeons in Chicago and landed on the bio page of Dr. Kern Singh, a minimally invasive spine surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Rush University Medical Center. He liked what he learned and scheduled a visit.

During the appointment, Dr. Singh ordered an MRI to best diagnose the source of Letchinger’s arm pain and numbness. Following an exam and careful review of his imaging, Dr. Singh explained that Letchinger had degenerative disc disease in three levels of his cervical spine (neck). He recommended injections as a first course of action.

When the injections didn’t provide relief, Dr. Singh discussed cervical disc replacement for all three levels, a procedure in which in he was specially trained and experienced. He reassured Letchinger that he would return him home the same day of surgery and back to golf, pain-free. Letchinger was ready.

Dr. Singh performed successful outpatient cervical disc replacement surgery on levels 3-4, 4-5, and 5-6 in Letchinger’s spine as an outpatient at Gold Coast SurgiCenter. It was a success.

“Mr. Letchinger’s situation is unique in that he had three levels of spinal stenosis in his neck and most spine surgeons recommend performing a multi-level fusion. Fortunately, Mr. Letchinger trusted my recommendation to undergo three cervical disc replacements instead, and now he is able to move his neck like he did in college.”

Pain-free golf: A promise kept

Letchinger woke up following surgery with no pain or discomfort in his arm. He went home the same day (six hours after surgery) with a small bandaid, no neck brace, and a very limited amount of prescription medications. The day after his surgery, he went into the office for a short visit. Several days later, he was back at work full-time with no pain or pain medication.

And golf? Dr. Singh kept his promise.

Just six weeks after surgery, Letchinger was on the golf course, and two weeks after that, he carried through with a planned golf trip to Great Britain. Truly a trip of a lifetime.

Today, Letchinger is still enjoying a high level of golf and doing push-ups, bench presses, and other exercises to stay in top golf condition. He feels like he is stronger than he has been in years.

If you have been told that you need spine surgery and would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Kern Singh, click here or call 877-MD-BONES.