It was exhilarating work. It was heroic work. And it took a toll on Robert's spine.
Looking back, Robert attributes his back problems to the six years he spent as a U.S. Navy pilot during the Cold War.
Catapulting from 0 to 170 miles per hours in a span of 300 feet on an aircraft carrier does something to a spine. Being
jerked to a stop by thick steel cables at 140 miles per hour does something to a spine. Flight maneuvers with seven
times your body weight pushing down upon you does something to a spine.
"The thing that would affect your back the most is high-G flight maneuvers," Robert muses. "You're getting 7, 8 or 9 G's
going right down your spine and trying to crush you."
Robert, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, logged more than 300 jarring carrier landings on the USS Forrestal,
mostly in the Mediterranean Sea but also in Guantánamo Bay. Those G's, or G-forces -- a measurement of gravity
forces on the human body during acceleration – led Robert decades later to the office of Bradbury Skidmore MD, a
neurosurgeon with Mayfield Brain & Spine.
said, 'Robert, your spine is a mess.' I detected some dry humor as he knew I had read all the reports! I said to myself,
'This is the guy I want to talk to.' He explained in great detail, expecting I was smart enough to follow it. He never talked
down to me at all. We decided to do certain things, and it all worked out great."
Over a period of three years, Robert underwent three spinal Proceduresprocedures, at L2-3, L4 and L5-S1, to open up
space around his spinal cord and nerves, and to relieve pain. The procedures involved two foraminotomies and one
laminotomy. All three were performed at the Spine Surgery Centre. After each procedure, Robert walked out on his
own and was home in time for lunch.
A history of back troubles
Robert began having back pain in his early 50s while flying the world as Chief Pilot for Procter & Gamble. Robert's
primary care physician recommended that he see a chiropractor, which he did. "Chiropractic and appropriate exercises
worked very well for 20 years," Robert says. "And then they didn't work."
Robert then saw a pain management physician, Lester Duplechan, MD, and was given epidural steroid injections.
Those controlled his pain for four years, but stenosis in his spine – a narrowing of the spinal and nerve root canals –
was progressing. When the pain injections no longer brought relief, Dr. Duplechan referred Robert to Dr. Skidmore,
whose reputation Robert knew well "from neighbors who had had some serious back operations by Dr. Skidmore."
Dr. Skidmore prescribed physical therapy first. Then, when it was clear that PT would not resolve Robert's difficulties,
he recommended surgery. The surgery would be a same-day procedure, giving Robert his introduction to the Mayfield
Spine Surgery Center.
"The outpatient surgery center was fantastic," Robert says. "The people there, the nurses, everybody, are very
knowledgeable, very friendly. I walked out of there on my own an hour after the operation. I was there at 7 a.m. and
home eating lunch at noon. And it was a 40-minute drive there. The center was very modern, and the staff was helpful
to the person who is there with you to bring you home. It was an amazingly good experience if it's something you have
Over the next few years, as age and wear and tear continued to take a toll, Robert found himself in a continuum of care
involving physical therapy with Dale Brockman, PT, pain injections with Dr. Duplechan and Mayfield's Marc Orlando,
MD, and surgery with Dr. Skidmore. "I was very lucky to get into a circle of providers who all respected each other's
knowledge and expertise," Robert says.
Robert's most recent surgery was in September 2018. Prior to the procedure, he was in enough misery that he could
not sit comfortably or drive without stinging sciatic nerve pain, from his back to his toes. As Dr. Skidmore considered
Robert's case, he knew that one solution was a major operation that would straighten Robert's back and alleviate
scoliosis with rods and screws. But Dr. Skidmore also observed that, over the years, Robert's body had effectively
fused his lower spine with calcium growths. Because there was no instability, another outpatient procedure was the
For a third time, Robert arrived at the Spine Surgery Center and walked out unassisted. "I felt super," he says. "And
since then I've had no pain whatever. I am walking and exercising; all with no pain, and am back to my fighting weight
at 177 pounds."
Earlier in Robert's retirement, he enjoyed captaining an ocean-going sailboat. "Sailing was one of my big hobbies,
which I learned at the Naval Academy," he says. "And I enjoyed golf and tennis. And now I can play golf again, which I
couldn't for three years. I don't feel I have any restrictions whatever on any athletic activities.
"There are a lot of unfounded fears about spinal operations," Robert continues. "My advice: Do not live with serious
back problems! It greatly limits your activities and adversely affects your quality of life. Advances in equipment and
procedures used by skilled surgeons like Dr. Skidmore have made spinal surgery safe, with shortened recovery
times.Don't wait to take positive action!"