Pioneering spinal surgery changes Middletown man's life

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- Travis Wells spent three years of his life in constant pain.

Wells, who described himself as a "man's man" fond of hunting, fishing and working cars,  experienced a sudden fusion of two vertebrae that pulled his entire muscular system to the left. 

He could no longer stand up straight or look up. His default posture became a lopsided stance with his left ear pressed against his shoulder. 

Doctors diagnosed him with ankylosing spondylitis and set him up with Botox injections to relax his strained muscles, but long-term solutions weren't forthcoming.

"Neurosurgeons wouldn't touch me," he said. "I had one doctor tell me I was going to live the rest of my life like that. It was heartbreaking."

Hoping to maintain at least his existing quality of life, he continued to see neurosurgeons, receive Botox injections and work with pain specialists. He couldn't go to movies, eat at restaurants or attend baseball games. He could only look for help.

Change didn't come until he was referred to Dr. Kamal Woods -- a neurosurgeon who was willing to take his case.

The one-of-a-kind spinal surgery Woods proposed, which involved intentionally breaking and resetting Wells's spine, had two possible outcomes: Wells would stand normally again or he would become a paraplegic. There were no other patients to consult. All he could do was place his trust in Woods.

"I was overwhelmed with how severe his neck deformity was," Woods said. "The feeling I had was more responsibility and accountability. He was so trusting and willing to put his life in my hands, so I knew I had to take my very best care of him."

Wells went under for 12 hours. 

When he woke up, he said, "the world literally changed."

The surgery had been a success, and Wells had a new lease on life.

"I went from viewing everything horizontally and down to being able to look people in the eyes again," Wells said. "It brought tears to my eyes. You don't think that's going to happen."

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