John Wallner, 59, of Arlington Heights, IL, is a former D1 tennis player-turned- competitive-runner. He has always lived and breathed for physical challenges and staying active. That is, until back pain knocked him off course.
Several years ago, low back pain made it difficult for him to play tennis or run and, eventually, just bending down and rolling over in bed was excruciating. Frustrated, Wallner sought help from experts that seemed to offer solutions. He endured a full year of ineffective treatment, including multiple visits to a chiropractor, traction therapy for 40 weeks, and injections from a pain specialist. Nothing worked.
At the end of the year, when a doctor told him to “forget about ever getting back to running and tennis,” he realized he had to seek yet another option. “It was a tough time mentally,” Wallner explains. “No one gave me any hope.” But, he persisted and after much online research, he discovered Dr. Frank Phillips, a nationally- known minimally invasive spine specialist at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush. Hopeful, he called for an appointment right away.
After a physical examination and reviewing Wallner’s MRI, Dr. Phillips diagnosed him with spondylolisthesis and recommended that spinal fusion surgery was his best option to be free of pain and return to his activities. Spondylothesis is a condition in which one vertebra in the spine slides over the bone below itself. It affects three million people each year in the US.
Dr. Phillips had high expectations for Wallner’s surgical outcome because of his overall excellent health and condition of his non-affected spine. As predicted, the surgery went very well. “The day after surgery, I felt great and was actually standing up looking out the hospital window when Dr. Phillips came to check on me,” he explains. “He couldn’t believe it himself.” Normally, spinal fusion patients are encouraged to wear a brace for a period of time and undergo physical therapy. However, based on Wallner’s mobility and excellent surgical outcome, Dr. Phillips didn’t recommend either.
The rapid recovery kept going. Just two days after surgery, Wallner was walking and soon after, working out at the gym. And, after six weeks, he was back on the tennis court. Later that year, Wallner finished in the top five of his United States Tennis Association age group in Chicago and was back to running competitively.
Since surgery, he has won (for his age group) five of the last half marathons he entered. Just this year, at age 59, and five years post-surgery, he finished a half marathon with a 6:35 mile average pace.
“After coming out on the other end of this this journey, I now truly believe that I can do anything,”
Wallner encourages anyone who is hesitant about spine surgery to put his or her “faith and trust in Dr. Phillips.” “I feel so in grateful to him. My self-confidence is restored ... and I got the old John back.”