Spine Surgery Gets Triathlete Back In The Race
Frank Bates began competing in triathlons only eight months after spine surgery.
Originally published Fall 2001

Frank Bates was active in sports his entire life, until a back injury in college put him on the sidelines for six years. While playing basketball with a group of friends, Frank suffered what later was realized to be a severe back injury.

“When I landed, I felt the pop,” said Frank. “That was in 1994 and there wasn’t an immediate problem.” Over the next two years, Frank’s back and leg pain began to progress. He tried to manage it through chiropractic care, massage and ultrasound. By the summer of 1996, the pain was so severe it took him 30 minutes just to get out of bed in the morning.

“I couldn’t golf or play basketball, but I wanted to stay active,” said Frank. “I could still run, bike and swim so I decided to try competing in triathlons.” He didn’t realize that his condition was about to take a turn for the worse. While running one day in May of 2000, Frank took a step and his back locked up. “I struggled to get back to my car and immediately called for help.”

A lumbar MRI revealed a L4-5 spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebra). He was referred to Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates in June of 2000. Practice physician Jerry Petty, MD, confirmed the diagnosis and also noted a severe amount of central lumbar stenosis and atrophy of the left quadriceps. He then referred the case to fellow neurosurgeon and complex spine specialist Dom Coric, MD.

“Dr. Petty said I needed immediate attention and wanted one of their spine specialists to get involved,” said Frank. “I was amazed that Dr. Coric saw me within hours!” Dr. Coric explained to Frank all of the available options, which included surgery. “They did a great job of answering my questions and calming my fears,” explained Frank. “After talking to friends of mine in the medical field, I was convinced that this was the right practice to perform my
L4-5 Posterior lumbar interbody fusion with pedicle screw fixation

On June 20, 2000, Frank underwent a posterior lumbar interbody fusion using interbody spacers and pedicle screw fixation at L4-5. He left the hospital three days after the operation. “I was actually walking the day I left the hospital,” said Frank. During the next six months, Frank spent six to eight hours a day at the YMCA for rehabilitation. After only one month, he was walking five to ten miles a day and no longer needed pain medicines and muscle relaxers.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Coric or the practice,” Frank said. “I couldn’t have had a better experience. During my rehab, I had regular checkups with Dr. Coric. He even called on New Year’s Eve morning to see how I was doing!” On March 25, 2001, only eight months after his spine surgery, Frank was back at full speed. He completed an Olympic triathlon, consisting of a one-mile swim, a 10K run and a 40K bike ride, in two hours and fifty minutes. Since his surgery, he’s now competed in a total of six triathlons with no residual pain.

“It’s amazing,” said Frank. “Now I say I’m 35 with the back of an 18-year-old. Having this surgery was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

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