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“I thought I was going to be paralyzed.”

Butch is a veteran who spent his post military career working as a plumber. His nickname at work was “Bam Bam” becauseMRI image of Butch's spine tumor of his strength, which he built up during his time in Iraq carrying a pack and ammo that together weighed over 250 pounds.

While under a home working on a sewer line, Butch felt what he described as an electric shock running down his back. He immediately asked his crew to kill the power, assuming the shock came from the house. Later during his drive home, he felt another shock of electricity in his back.

When he got home from work, Butch immediately told his wife what had happened. A couple of weeks later, Butch started experiencing other strange symptoms. “I would fall for no reason,” recalled Butch. “Then my feet started tingling.”

While Butch did not have any pain, over the course of seven months, his symptoms became progressively worse until his entire body felt numb from the chest down. While working on another plumbing project, he took another hard fall. His boss and good friend told him that something had to be wrong and that he needed to go to the emergency room. “I was using a walker,” said Butch. “I had to get help in and out of bed. I couldn’t ride my motorcycle and I kept falling at work.”

“She said ‘stop what you’re doing. I’m looking at your MRI and your spinal cord is about to break.’”

When Butch went into the emergency room for an MRI and x-rays, he was told that nothing was wrong. “They couldn’t explain my symptoms,” said Butch. “I was struggling at work every day. No one else was going to take care of my family. I had always been a provider, and I felt like ‘why me?’”

A few months later, Butch got a call from a new doctor that had taken over after his previous doctor’s retirement. “She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was at work,” said Butch. “She said ‘stop what you’re doing. I’m looking at your MRI and your spinal cord is about to break.’”

Butch’s new doctor could see a tumor up high on his spinal cord on the MRI. Butch was then sent to UNC Pinehurst for another MRI. Pinehurst neurosurgeons confirmed the presence of the spine tumor and referred Butch to UNC Health Chapel Hill for surgery.

Butch in recovery after surgery to remove his spine tumor at UNC Health
Butch with his wife after surgery at UNC Health.

Butch and his brother Will met with Dr. Cheerag Upadhyaya at the UNC Spine Center in Chapel Hill. Butch was told that he had a spine tumor that was compressing his spinal cord. Dr. Upadhyaya advised that they act with urgency.  Butch was scheduled for surgery two days later at UNC Health. At this point, “I had one knee on my walker and someone helping to push,” said Butch.

Butch’s multidisciplinary surgical team consisted of expertise from neurosurgery, interventional radiology, and radiation oncology. Before removal of the tumor, Butch’s neuro-interventional physicians performed embolization to stop blood flow to the tumor. The tumor was then removed by Dr. Upadhyaya. A week after surgery, Butch went back in for radiation treatment to further control the tumor. “”Adopting a multidisciplinary approach to patient care ensures that we address the complex needs of patients through the collective expertise of diverse healthcare professionals, leading to more comprehensive, effective, and personalized treatment plans,” said Dr. Upadhyaya.

After surgery, Butch noted that he could feel his body again and that the numbness was completely gone. He spent four days in the hospital before being discharged. “I had no pain after surgery,” said Butch, who noted that he has a very high pain tolerance.

“Everybody at UNC was great. I felt like a human being and not a number.”

Butch completed physical therapy at home during his recovery. His brother and wife supported him through hisSpinal neurosurgery patient Butch on his motorcycle. diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. He recently returned for a follow-up MRI and is tumor-free. He will go back next year for another MRI to make sure that the tumor does not grow back. “Dr. Upadhyaya was very personable,” said Butch. “I just went to see him and he saw me running up the stairs and, even after a year and a half, he remembered who I was.”

Now, Butch is back to the active lifestyle that he has always enjoyed, and spends time with his family. “I thought I was going to be paralyzed,” said Butch. “Everybody at UNC was great. I felt like a human being and not a number.”