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Thread: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

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    Default Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2...to-end-it-all/

    Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    By Nick Canepa, UNION-TRIBUNE COLUMNIST

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.
    FILE - In this March 27, 2007, file photo photo provided by McDonald's, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, right, sits with Bill Walton during the banquet for the the 30th anniversary McDonald's All American High School Basketball Games, in Louisville, Ky. Wooden led UCLA on its vaunted 88-game winning streak. "Wooden never talked about winning or losing," Bruins great Bill Walton says. (AP Photo/McDonald's, Henny Ray Abrams, HO)

    / AP

    FILE - In this March 27, 2007, file photo photo provided by McDonald's, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, right, sits with Bill Walton during the banquet for the the 30th anniversary McDonald's All American High School Basketball Games, in Louisville, Ky. Wooden led UCLA on its vaunted 88-game winning streak. "Wooden never talked about winning or losing," Bruins great Bill Walton says. (AP Photo/McDonald's, Henny Ray Abrams, HO)
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    By his count, Bill Walton has undergone 36 orthopedic surgeries at various points on his 6-foot-11 frame. But if you know Walton, then you’re aware that he’s never needed an operation on his enthusiasm for life — until 14 months ago, when his pain had reached the point where he seriously wondered if he could go on.

    Walton, one of the all-time-great basketball players, a man whose intelligence and enthusiasm enabled him to roll over every pothole in his past and find success in most every endeavor he’s undertaken, admits the incredible pain brought about by a bad back took him to the brink, where he contemplated taking his own life.

    “I’m getting back into the game of life,” Walton, throwing both of his long arms in the air, was saying as we sat outside his San Diego home. “I have a new life now. It got to the point where my life wasn’t worth living. I was standing on the edge of the bridge, figuring it was better to jump than to go back to where I was.”

    Suicide? Bill Walton? This is a man who wanted to be a great basketball player and became one. This is a man who, as a youngster, had a speech impediment and beat it — to the point where, for 19 years, he became one of the most prominent basketball broadcasters, an Emmy winner. This is a man who knew how to play with pain — until this.

    “You can’t understand until you’ve been where I’ve been,” said Walton, adding that he’s finished with broadcasting and is exploring new business opportunities.

    The turnaround began when Walton was introduced to Dr. Steven Garfin, chairman of the Department of Orthopaedics (specializing in the spine) at UCSD, a master and teacher of new, less-invasive surgical techniques.

    “Dr. Garfin saved my life — a great man,” Walton said of the doctor who practices the new surgical technique of operating on the spine by entering through the side using a Neurovision probe. The instruments are developed by NuVasive Inc., a rising local company dedicated to making minimally destructive spinal surgical tools — and teaching doctors such as Garfin how to use them.

    Working with NuVasive, Walton has helped develop and is an international spokesman for “The Better Way Back” (thebetterwayback.org), which assists those afflicted with chronic back and leg pain.

    Walton says that before the 8½-hour surgery 14 months ago, he had become useless. He couldn’t walk and had trouble sleeping. But he had encouragement from his friends and especially from his wife, Lori.

    “There were four incisions, four 4-inch bolts, two titanium rods and a cage that holds it all together and spacers in between the vertebrae,” he said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve had to go through, much more difficult than all my other surgeries combined. It’s come so far, the evolution of back surgery, and doctors constantly are improving.

    “I can’t describe the pain. Think of being submerged in a tub of boiling acid with an electrified current running through it. That would be nothing. People who haven’t had that nerve pain can’t know. It’s debilitating, excruciating, unrelenting. I had to eat lying on the floor, flat on my stomach.

    “It was not an elective surgery. I couldn’t even crawl. No drug worked. I tried everything — acupuncture, yoga, massage. You name it, I did it. But I got lucky and found Steve Garfin, and now I’m finding a better way back to help people. How can you begin to thank Steve Garfin and NuVasive, getting me back in the saddle one more time? A new life, at 57.”

    Through it all, it was his wife who helped keep the faith.

    “You like to think you can do it without support,” he said. “I’ve been given lessons of life by the greatest teachers, but this time, the ball wasn’t just bouncing the other way; it was punctured.

    “Lori would leave Post-it notes around. ‘Today, you were able to turn over in bed.’ ‘Today, you were able to sit up. ‘Today, you went from a wheelchair to a walker.’ ‘Today, you were able to take a shower.’ ‘Today, you were able to eat a meal sitting up.’ ‘Today, you were able to put your shoes and socks on.’ These were all real events.”

    Walton is never going to be pain-free. He still walks gingerly. But the severe leg pain that haunted him before the surgery is gone. He’s at the Y working out every morning. He swims; he lifts. An avid cyclist, he now can get on his bike and ride, as he will today in the Adventure Corps Mount Laguna Century Bicycle Ride.

    In our little talk, he also revealed something I didn’t know. In 1974, when UCLA was riding the longest winning streak in college basketball history, he and the Bruins played at Washington State. Late in the game, Walton was low-bridged by a Cougar and fell hard to the floor.

    “A despicable act of intentional violence and dirty play,” is how he put it. “I broke two bones in my spine that night, and things were never the same for me again.”

    Walton missed three games, but came back, wearing a corset, when UCLA traveled to Notre Dame and had its 88-game winning streak snapped.

    “We hadn’t lost since 1969, to Monte Vista, when I was at Helix (High),” he said. “We may have beaten Notre Dame if I hadn’t played. I probably hurt us.”

    Why didn’t anybody know about this?

    “We didn’t tell anyone,” he said, laughing.

    It’s great to see this most exuberant of athletes walking once again outside the shadow of doubt.

    “Now, I’m dedicating my new life to helping others have their dreams come true,” Walton said. “I’ve got so many things going on, building a business career and focusing on things near and dear to me — sports, education, environment and health. My broadcasting career is over. I had my chance; I had 19 years and had fun.

    “San Diego’s my home. I have unshakable loyalty to San Diego. It’s one of the driving forces of my life.”

    Which is now?

    “Bill Walton 15.0.”

    With that, he smiles and raises those long arms over his head. Yes, Bill Walton is back. Welcome home.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    Great story about a very funny, bright, and misunderstood guy (misunderstood since too few "get" his sarcasm)

    His story also shows that while pot smoking helps with some kinds of pain, it apparently doesn't do much for back injuries.

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  5. #3

    Default Re: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    If he had back pain that bad he probably had horrible bouts of sciatica too. And that, folks, ain't no joke.

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    I'm on a MAC! graphic-er's Avatar
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    Default Re: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    Today's game is a pivotal battle between two powerhouses, a battle for tenth place!

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    Default Re: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    Quote Originally Posted by Slick Pinkham View Post
    This quote is hidden because you are ignoring this member. Show Quote
    Great story about a very funny, bright, and misunderstood guy (misunderstood since too few "get" his sarcasm)

    His story also shows that while pot smoking helps with some kinds of pain, it apparently doesn't do much for back injuries.
    I "get" his sarcasm. It just isn't funny.

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    Default Re: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    With that said, props to Bill. I would not want to go through what he's had to go through, that's for sure.

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    Default Re: Back pain nearly drove Bill Walton to end it all

    I admit, i was a big Bill Walton fan. I have always said he was the perfect player for that trailblazer team. I don't think anyother player in the history of the game could have led that team to a championship the way walton did. Then the next year they were 40 and 10 when he got injured. The rest of the season they were like 7 and 25. When the ask Bobby Gross the starting small forward how that could be, his answer was that with Bill they were a Great team, without him they sucked.
    Good is the enemy of Great


    We're changing the identity of our basketball team -- dramatically. We're a power post team -- a blood-and-guts, old-school, smash-mouth team that plays with size, strength, speed and athleticism. We attack the basket. . . . This is the new identity of our team. It was a great effort. I'm very proud of our guys."
    -- Frank Vogel.

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