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El Camino Hospital and Me

Mike’s Story: Spine Surgery

"I had just parked my motorcycle on the side of the road when a car crashed into me and sent me flying," recalls Mike, explaining the reason for one of his many orthopedic surgeries. How many surgeries has Mike had in the 28 years he spent as a California Highway Patrolman (CHP)? A dozen.

When Mike joined the CHP in his early 20s, he knew it would be dangerous, but he probably didn't know just how dangerous. According to the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, more than 200 officers have been killed on the job since the CHP was formed, and countless more have been injured. And it's becoming even more dangerous over the years; in 2010 alone, five CHP officers died from injuries.

But Mike, now retired, is fortunate that none of his injuries were life-threatening, and he's been in very capable hands. Since 1988, he has been treated by Thomas Kula, Jr., MD, one of the top spine surgeons in the Bay Area.

"Every spine surgery has been with Dr. Kula at El Camino Hospital Los Gatos," says Mike, who adds, "It's always a fantastic experience from start to finish."

Mike first came to Dr. Kula when he was having neck pain and his regular doctor wasn't sure what to do. Dr. Kula told Mike he had a disc injury he sustained on the job. (Over the years, Mike has been run over twice during the line of duty and sustained an additional injury dragging a dead deer off the highway).

During this first surgery, Dr. Kula fused the injured discs in his neck so that Mike could return to work without pain. And, since that day, Mike has had four additional spine surgeries with Dr. Kula, including a laminectomy (decompression surgery) to relieve pressure on his spinal cord.

"I've probably had a surgery every few years or so," says Mike. "Besides the spine surgeries, I've also had knee and shoulder surgeries with another surgeon who specializes in joints."

As someone who has been through so many operations, Mike has lots of terrific advice for patients: Ask lots of questions, talk to other patients and make sure you have a surgeon you trust. Mike says it also helps to have an experienced team taking care of you.

"Dr. Kula has worked with the same nurses and physical therapists for years, and Pam in registration is always there to help me through it all."

Mike still travels all the way from his home in Santa Rosa to see the doctor he calls his "hero."

Well, Mike, we think you're the true hero here. Thank you for keeping us safe on the road, and we wish you all the best in your retirement, which we hope will be injury-free!