An Extreme Athlete Gains His Life Back After Spine Surgery at Barrow

An Extreme Athlete Gains His Life Back After Spine Surgery at Barrow

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Jim Weatherly celebrates his 73rd birthday skydiving. (1)

For Jim Weatherly, the sky’s always been the limit. The Milwaukee native approached everything he did in life with passion and enthusiasm – and he was always ready for the next adventure. Activities like cross-country skiing, marathons, and triathlons were all part of Jim’s active lifestyle, and he had no intention of ever slowing down. Until he did.

When Jim was in his mid-50s, he started experiencing some degeneration of the vertebrae in his spine. At first, it caused mostly stiffness and discomfort. As the years went by, however, Jim’s condition deteriorated to the point where he was experiencing severe, chronic pain in his back. Because of the added pressure on his spine, Jim also suffered from nerve damage. He went from running marathons to not even being able to stand for more than a few minutes. He recalls, “By that time, I could hardly walk any kind of distance. As someone who had always lived an active lifestyle, it made this all the more frustrating.”

Soon, Jim’s back pain began to affect the quality of time he spent with his family. One of the most heartbreaking moments came when he realized he could no longer participate in a beloved family tradition. “Every year around the holidays, my family goes on a ski trip to Colorado. But the last time we went, my back was so bad that I didn’t feel comfortable getting on the slopes and had to wait for them back in the lodge,” he says. “That’s just not me – I’ve never been the guy who hangs back.”

Things became even worse when he retired. Jim and his wife decided to spend the winter months in Arizona, but instead of taking advantage of the warmer weather, he found himself indoors at home most of the time. That’s when Jim reached his breaking point. He knew he couldn’t continue on this way.

Dr. Laura Snyder, Chief of Neurotrauma at Barrow Neurological InstituteHe searched near and far for the right spine surgeon, looking at hospitals in major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. “Finally, a neighbor of mine whose wife had brain surgery at Barrow Neurological Institute recommended it for my back surgery, and that’s how I found Dr. Laura Snyder,” says Jim. With her extensive experience in both complex and minimally invasive spine surgery, Jim knew immediately that Dr. Snyder was the right surgeon for him.

In December 2021, Jim took a leap of faith and went through with the surgery. It lasted almost eight hours, with Dr. Snyder doing multiple spinal fusions to relieve the pressure on his nerves. The rehabilitation process was long and arduous, but Jim persevered. “Everyone at Barrow, from Dr. Snyder, to the nurses, to the Neuro-Rehabilitation team, was just phenomenal. I couldn’t have done it without them,” he says.

Jim Weatherly at the summit of Camelback MountainWhen Jim finally began outpatient rehabilitation, he set two goals for himself: climb to the top of Camelback Mountain and go skydiving. One year after his surgery, Jim had accomplished both of those goals. Jim looks forward to continuing his progress and getting back to doing the things he loves, such as skiing with his family, joining a golf club, traveling to Europe, and much more.

“I remember asking Dr. Snyder why she liked being a spine surgeon, and she told me that she liked seeing people get their lives back. I can proudly say that I’ve done that to the fullest,” he says.

Thanks to Barrow, Jim’s future is once again open to endless possibilities and adventures – and not even the sky’s the limit.

Incredible success stories like Jim’s would not be possible without your support. Please consider making a donation to the Sonntag Spine Center at Barrow to help advance the treatment of spinal disorders through research, innovation, and education, so more patients like Jim can go on to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.

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