In 2015, I was leading a group of people to Petra, which is in Jordan. Petra is called the Rose City. It is an archeological site literally cut out of the mountainside rock. The site itself is about a mile from the visitors’ welcome center. To get to the site, you can either walk, ride a horse halfway and then walk, or you can ride in a two-passenger cart driven by Jordanians who like to race each other. The cart has metal wheels and no shock absorbers. The solid rock path was unbelievably uneven and bumpy.
About five minutes into the ride, we hit a large bump and I felt a horrific pain in my back. I yelled to the driver to stop. I got out of the cart but could not even straighten up without feeling debilitating pain.
I made my way back to the welcome center and waited for the group to return so we could have lunch, board our bus and return to Eilat Israel and our hotel for dinner and overnight. Two days later, I flew from Eilat to Tel Aviv, on to New York and Washington D.C., where I retrieved my car and drove four hours to my home.
The following week I went to the orthopedic surgeon who had worked on my spine seven years earlier and he sent me for an MRI. He later told me I needed a spinal fusion surgery, which would involve rods and screws to separate the vertebras and stabilize the spine. He may have used longer words but that is what I heard.
I have a few friends who have experienced this surgery and all but one still has pain, and some have even had additional surgery. I was less than thrilled about the prospect of facing this surgery but the pain was still severe. I finally resolved this was my only choice and decided to schedule surgery.
Before taking that step, I wanted to see my cardiologist to make sure it was all right. Unfortunately, he said I needed a stent in my heart, which we scheduled for the following week. He also said I would be on a blood thinner and should not have surgery of any kind for quite a while. I waited about 10 months to return to see him and spent every single day in pain. This time he said my heart was fine for surgery.
Then he also said, “I think you should get a second opinion.” I said, “I didn’t think I had an option.” His response was, “There is a neurosurgeon who developed a way to do this type of surgery with an ultrasonic device.” He continued, “The recovery time is generally about one month or less — while the recovery time with the fusion is about five months.”
“How do I find this guy?” I asked, and he told his nurse to get me an appointment with the neurosurgeon.
The following week, I met Dr. Dilan Ellegala. I immediately felt God had led me in the right direction.
He looked at my MRI and told me I had five nerves being impinged by the vertebra above them and he could use the ultrasound instrument to carve out a passageway in the bone, one millimeter at a time, to relieve the pressure on the vertebra. We scheduled the surgery for two weeks at a surgery center in Charlottesville. That was about a 90-minute drive from my home.
While I was being prepped for surgery, Dr. Ellegala came in and introduced me to each of the surgical assistants and the anesthesiologist. I felt comfortable being there. As I was rolled into the operating room, I looked and everyone was wearing a mask. I said, “I see the masks, are you carrying guns also?” Someone laughed and said, “We’ve heard that one before. Good night now.”
The surgery began at 8:30 a.m. At 11:15, I got up from the gurney and walked to my car. My wife drove me to our hotel and I walked from the parking lot, through the lobby to the elevator and to our room. Two hours later, I left the room and walked the entire length of the Hilton Garden twice — pain-free for the first time in months. The doctor came to the hotel to check up on me about 5:00 p.m. He looked at the incision and said it looked good.
Before he departed, I asked him about what I could do now. He told me, “Whatever you feel like. I don’t think you should try to run a marathon tonight.” I said, “Tomorrow is our 62nd wedding anniversary, can I take Carlene out to eat tonight?” He said, “Sure, if you feel like it.”
That was 15 months ago. I am still pain-free. Of course, I am 82 years old and have aches and pains like everyone else; however, the spine issue that led me to Dr. Dilan Ellegala has been fixed. Incidentally, I went back to work in one week.
• Duke Westover is a native Texan and now lives in Virginia. He was Executive Assistant to the Chancellor and Founder of Liberty University for about more than 30 years. He and his wife, Carlene, also operate a wholesale tour company that has taken thousands of people to Israel and other Middle Eastern countries since 1981.
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