Raf's Race to Recovery

Back Story

When I was 40, I began experiencing pain in my right hip while training for a triathlon.  The pain became more excruciating – I experienced numbness in my foot, and even had to use a cane for a bit.  Dr. Slosar at SpineCare Medical Group determined that I had a grade 1 spondylolisthesis at S1/L5, a disc that had herniated enough to reach the sciatic nerve, and a fractured L4 vertebrae. Spine fusion was the only treatment that would correct the situation and eliminate the excruciating pain.  Dr. Slosar recommended that I initially have a cortisone shot, and the pain was significantly reduced. I decided to use this temporary pain relief as a way to “train” for surgery.

Instead of lamenting my misfortune, I decided to work out hard in the gym 4-5 times each week, rode my bike, and swim “like there wasn’t any danger lurking inside”.  I was afraid that after surgery I would be physically limited, gain weight, and weaken over time, and I wanted to make myself stronger for the recovery process.

As the weeks progressed, the pain began to slowly creep back.

Treatment and Recovery

A two-level spine fusion was done one year after I first started feeling pain.  Because of my hard work, I was able to walk on the first day of recovery.  I didn’t need a physical therapist in the hospital: I was getting up on my own, walking numerous laps around the facility, and walking up six flights of stairs.  Walking served as the catalyst for my recovery, and I used the app MapMyFitness to track my daily progress.  Six days after surgery, I walked 1.3 miles in 24 minutes.

When I tried to pick up the pace a bit, my progress came to a halt and I had to stop walking for a week and rely on medication.  An ice vest helped reduce the need for medication, and I highly recommend one for anyone recovering from a spine fusion.

I began physical therapy eight weeks after surgery, and went on my first run at thirteen weeks!


I am currently running 17 miles a week, and I ran my first half marathon just prior to participating in my first We’ve Got Your Back Race/Walk event in San Francisco, where I placed first in my age group!  I am a member of a spondylolisthesis support group on Facebook and I want to prove that the human body can persevere despite the odds.

“A professor once said to me: instead of using the roadblocks in your life as an excuse, one must get to the point where he or she can say that despite the roadblocks, I succeeded.  I know I have succeeded and will continue to provide hope to others in any way I can… but don’t let my determination fool you, I also had a tremendous surgeon and support team who did the work to get me to this point.  They got the ball rolling and I had to keep it moving forward”.

Check out Raf's video series for positive motivation!