Bryan Bannister, of Milwaukee, is the type of person who felt he did not have time to be injured. An active father, salesperson, wrestling coach and athlete, he enjoys spending free time mountain biking and playing tennis. When he started having numbness in his arm, he wanted to shrug it off.

“I have a high pain tolerance, so I thought I’d just work through it,” he said. “I felt like I didn't have time to be sidelined.”

However, as time went on, his symptoms got progressively worse. In late 2018, he sustained an injury while wrestling and experienced instant, severe pain that did not subside with time. His primary care physician diagnosed a herniated disk and treated him with anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroids.

“The medications helped a bit, but I was still in unbearable pain that made it difficult to sleep,” Bryan said. “That’s when I decided it was time to look into other options.”

Finding the Right Doctor

Bryan saw two specialists, both of whom recommended additional steroid injections and a disk fusion. He considered those options but had concerns about not being able to wrestle or be active in the future. Then, a colleague told him about his positive experience with neurosurgeon Marjorie Wang, MD, MPH, at Froedtert Menomonee Falls Hospital, part of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network.

“Within minutes of meeting and talking with Dr. Wang, I knew she was the doctor for me,” Bryan said. "I liked how she analyzed things and approached my injury.”

By the time Bryan saw Dr. Wang, he was experiencing pain, numbness, weakness and muscle spasms in his arm. “Dr. Wang’s diagnosis was deterioration and herniation of the disk in my neck at C6/C7, and she said I was a good candidate for disk replacement surgery,” he said.

Dr. Wang confirmed that with Bryan’s age, overall physical condition and activity level, a disk replacement was the surgery of choice. “He was 37 and an athlete,” Dr. Wang said. “A motion-preserving surgery for someone so young who wants to continue to participate in athletics is considered a best practice.”

Smooth Recovery

Bryan has nothing but positive things to say about Dr. Wang and his disk replacement surgery experience.

“The surgery went so well I didn’t even need strong pain relievers, and I wanted to go home the same day,” he said.

His recovery at home was quick as well. “My neck was stiff for a little while, but I did some stretches and that helped,” he said. “I actually watched the Brewers play the day after surgery and went to a game the following Saturday.”

Gaining Strength

After surgery, Bryan wanted to work with a physical therapist and occupational therapist for core strengthening, body mechanics and exercise. He said the choice for additional therapy was not a post-surgery treatment for his neck, but rather a way to improve his strength and learn how to exercise and work safely.

“Understanding each patient’s lifestyle and personal goals is essential to developing an effective plan that creates stepping stones from where the patient is in the recovery to where they want to go,” said Cynthia Samonte, MPT, physical therapist at SpineCare at Froedtert & MCW Tosa Health Center. “In Bryan’s case, physical therapy created a path that empowered him to use tools to navigate his health and get back to being as active as ever.”

Occupational therapist Carol Fitzgerald worked with Bryan as well. “We addressed ergonomics related to his sales and office work, including how to set up his computer and chair and supports to use in his vehicle,” Carol said.

She also showed him how to use proper posture, body mechanics and lift techniques, which they applied to simulated self-care and housekeeping tasks. Bryan caught on quickly and was able to use the techniques without difficulty.

Now a year since surgery, Bryan said he feels great.

“I still have a little numbness in my hands sometimes, but that’s because I waited so long to get treated — not because of the surgery,” he said. “If I have another surgery related to what Dr. Wang does, I’ll go to her first and follow whatever recommendation she provides. She is that good.”

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