Portrait of a Grateful Patient
"I remember one doctor telling me that if I would just give up snow skiing, give up cycling, give up horseback riding... if I just made some minor changes in my life, I wouldn’t be aggravating my back and then I’d be fine. So I asked the doctor, ‘Do you horseback ride?’ He said no. I said, ‘Do you snow ski?’ He said no. ‘Do you play golf?’ No. I said, ‘Well, for you it would be minor – but for me, you’re asking me to give up my life.’ ”
--Dennis Gardemeyer, UC Davis orthopedic patient
Dennis Gardemeyer is not a man to take things sitting down – or even to sit down – very often. The 60-year-old owner and/or CEO of multiple agricultural businesses is also a instrument-rated pilot who commutes to work in the Stockton delta area most days by plane. When not flying, he travels a week of every month to ski, boat and fish all over the world. And he cycles through Europe every year.
Hands-on and hard-working, Dennis has remained physically active throughout the years. However, the physically punishing work and play also took its toll. To relieve back pain, Dennis visited Stanford for Intradiscal Electrothermal Annuloplasty or IDET, a procedure that works by cauterizing nerve endings within the disc wall to block pain signals. While he continued to be active, pain also continued to be an active part of his life.
And then one routine day things became more severe. While preparing to fly a board member of one of his companies to San Jose, Dennis opened a hangar door and elongated his back. A compressed disc shoved into his spinal column and Dennis instantly developed dropped foot, a weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the front of the foot. Despite the pain, he kept his promise to complete the flight – although things got hairy on landing. “When I got there, it dawns on me that I don’t have control of this foot and I’m landing an airplane,” he said. “You use your feet for rudder control and your toes for braking.”
The landing was successful, but Dennis realized he had a full-blown medical issue. He called doctors in New York, Chicago and England looking for top medical care as soon as possible. Then a surgeon friend told him there was a renowned doctor at UC Davis Health System – Dr. Rolando Roberto. Roberto saw Dennis immediately, scheduled tests and performed a very successful microdiscectomy the following day.
The procedure not only solved the dropped foot, but also some of the chronic lower back issues Dennis had dealt with for years. Now he is leaving soon for a trip to Africa. “I do everything I used to do when I was in my twenties,” he says. “I’m not 100 percent pain free, but I’m pretty close to it.”