In my own family of five, each of us have experienced at least one episode of lower back pain that prevented us from participating in the activities that we enjoy. More than 80 percent of adults will experience back pain in their lifetimes. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, back pain is the most common cause of job related disability. And yet knowing that you are not alone does not bring much comfort when you are experiencing pain.

Sandy Bauer was an active member of the United States Marine Corps when she began to experience pain in her lower back. Bauer regularly lugged around a 120-pound backpack as part of her training and ran one to two marathons a year in between deployments. Bauer tried many of the known therapies that can help with lower back pain. Unfortunately, acupuncture and massage therapies did not make a dent in the chronic pain she was experiencing.

Sandy Bauer
Sandy Bauer will tackle an ultra marathon next. Photo courtesy: Sandy Bauer

“I got three rounds of steroid shots in my spine which helped me sleep, but did not help the pain,” explains Bauer.

She was so active that slowing down wasn’t really an option for her until the pain became so great that she could barely walk. “It got to the point that I couldn’t feel my feet so moving my feet up and down and walking became very difficult,” shares Bauer. Bauer was still serving in the Marine Corps and worked hard to put on a brave face and carry on with her daily duties.

An extremely active woman, her inability to run and participate in the races she loved took a toll on her mental health as well. “Running is my mental zen,” shares Bauer. “It was extremely stressful for me not to be able to run or show my horses.” After Bauer retired, she decided to seek a more permanent solution for her chronic back pain. Fortunately for Bauer, she was referred to Dr. Ryan Halpin at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates. Bauer didn’t know anything about Dr. Halpin, but when she did some research she was impressed with his extensive training.

Dr. Halpin attended Brown University in Rhode Island and graduated from medical school at Northwestern University. An Olympia native, Dr. Halpin always thought he would follow in his father Dr. Patrick Halpin’s footsteps and become an orthopaedic surgeon. Fortunately for Bauer, he did his residency in the Department of Neurological Surgery, winning an award for the resident who best exemplified academic excellence and compassion for patients.

Dr. Ryan Halpin
Dr. Ryan Halpin encouraged Sandy Bauer to keep moving forward. Photo courtesy: Olympia Orthopaedic Associates

Dr. Halpin brought this compassion to his initial assessment of Bauer. “Sandy had tried all of the conventional therapies and was still unable to lead a pain-free productive life,” shares Dr. Halpin. When a patient is experiencing back pain, the physicians at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates have many tools at their disposal to help alleviate that pain. “When the pain is unrelenting and there are nerve symptoms, it can be time to look at surgical options,” shares Dr. Halpin. He told Bauer that there was only a 50/50 chance that the L5 S1 anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery would eliminate her symptoms, but she was desperate for relief and made the decision that a 50 percent chance of success was worth a try.

Bauer had surgery in June 2016 and knew as soon as the anesthesia wore off that the pain was better. She returned to work and began regaining her strength. Most people would be content to be walking without pain, but Bauer was determined to return to running. She began training with a run/walk technique and was running by December. In May 2017, less than one year after her major spine surgery, Bauer completed the Capital City Half Marathon in under three hours.

Today there is no stopping Bauer, who is currently planning to be at the start line of the Capital City Marathon on May 20 of this year. Her next milestone is an Ultra-Peak Marathon in 2019.

While Sandy Bauer is not a typical patient, Dr. Halpin is no typical surgeon. “Dr. Halpin’s encouragement is what kept me moving forward,” shares Bauer. “My parents instilled in me the belief that there is nothing that I can’t do. Dr. Halpin helped me to understand that while there is nothing I can’t do, I cannot do it all at once!”

Bauer is eternally grateful for the positive experience she had Olympia Orthopaedic Associates. “Everyone in Dr. Halpin’s office is so professional and courteous,” she adds. “It was a fantastic experience all around.”

For more information on Olympia Orthopaedic Associates and how they can keep you moving forward visit their website or call 360-709-6230.


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