What a man, what a man, what a man, what a mighty good man

August 23, 2011

I felt compelled to write this review for my back surgeon, but Yelp couldn’t take all the text, so I’m posting it here and linking to it from Yelp.

If you want to “cut to the chase” and just read my review directly related to Dr. Frank Kuwamura then jump to the last 3 paragraphs of my review. I felt it necessary to include my entire ordeal and experience with the 3 other doctors listed to show and prove just how good of a doctor I believe Dr. Kuwamura is. If you aren’t concerned with background, jump to the end – no hurt feelings!

Surgery is scary. Plain and simple. But when you are in constant pain for 4 years, you come to the realization that surgery might be necessary – as was in my case. Starting in 2003 I had severe back pain. I started seeing a chiropractor when the pain started but after a few weeks of no relief she took x-rays and noticed degenerative disc disease. Although the chiropractor suggested continued chiro care, the word ‘disease’ scared the heck out of me so I promptly made an appointment with my family practice doctor. That doctor took one look at my symptoms and referred me to a neurosurgeon (NOT Dr. Kuwamura) and that’s where nearly 4 years of hell started.

The neurosurgeon, a former military doctor, told me that I’d never be able to perform any type of high impact exercise again and suggested that I take up swimming for the rest of my life. REALLY?!? I was 23 years old at the time and before the onset of my pain I ran 5ks, mountain biked, water skied and lived a highly active lifestyle. He prescribed physical therapy and sent me on my way.

When 12 weeks of physical therapy didn’t relieve much, if any, of my pain I sought out a doctor per the recommendation of a family member. This doctor was a pain management specialist. He too said that I should not seek to perform any type of impact exercise from there on out and followed it up by saying he would not even consider operating on me until I could physically not get out of bed. I know that I was ‘young’ to be operated on, but at this point in my life I was not willing to accept the fact that nothing could be done to help my situation. He scheduled me for epidural injections and continued to administer these to me over the course of the next year (every 3 to 4 months). While the injections relieved some discomfort I was not able to live a 23 year old life and was instead forced into a sedentary lifestyle unable to participate in the activities I loved. I gained weight because of this and despite continued physical therapy, I received no relief.

Next, I decided I’d go to the “experts” at the Texas Back Institute in Plano, TX. I made an appointment and anxiously awaited my visit. On the day of my visit I felt very comfortable with the doctor, an orthopedic surgeon who took the time to understand my condition and my past treatments. He immediately scheduled a discogram to confirm my injury and its exact location. He pinpointed my pain to the disc between L5-S1. I guess I should mention that at some point in the past 2 years I described above one of the docs did order an MRI on my lower back…the results showed an “annular tear” at this very location, but from my recollection no one seemed to be too concerned with it. The Back Institute doctor then recommended a recently approved surgical procedure called disc replacement. After describing the treatment and what it could possibly do for me, I agreed that I would like to have the surgery. I was then administered several other tests to investigate my viability for the procedure, paperwork was completed and submitted to my insurance company. DENIED. Although the procedure had been approved by the FDA, my insurance company wouldn’t pay for it. Then came weeks of appeals and letters, and phone calls all to no avail. I would not be able to pay for the surgery without insurance and found that when the Spine Institute learned of my denied appeals, they refused to call me back or offer any type of alternative. So I was on my own once again.

Then, I overhead a co-worker talking about a fabulous back doctor he had been seeing and quickly scratched the name down (I promise I’m getting to the good part about Dr. Kuwamura now!), did some research online and made an appointment. From the time I entered Dr. Kuwamura’s presence I felt comfortable with him and his abilities. I already knew that he had a respectable education and experience, but what I didn’t expect (because I had never really gotten it from the previous 3 doctors I had seen) was a warm, candid, caring attitude. Dr. Kuwamura took the time to listen to all of my previous treatments, answer my questions and even asked what my goals were for coming to him. I explained that I wanted to live like a 26 year old not an 80 year old and he told me he completely understood – and I believed him. He explained how he had once been a runner (he even completed Boston if I remember correctly) and that he had previously had a spinal fusion surgery to correct an issue very similar to mine. WOW – someone who had been through it and who was concerned with what I wanted – I had hit the jackpot of doctors. On that first appointment he recommended a spinal fusion at L5-S1, explained the surgery, the pros and cons, and the possibility of it not correcting my problem. He covered all bases, good and bad, and I respected him for that. He then went on to tell me of experiences he had with patients similar to me (young, in good health, in decent shape) and how they had handled the surgery and recovery. I was convinced that I needed to take the chance on surgery and started the scheduling process immediately. Because I wanted to wait until after getting married, Dr. Kuwamura referred me to another pain management doctor to administer epidural and facet injections until I saw him again.

December 7, 2007 changed my life. I woke up from the surgery without back pain, but with stomach pain – let me explain…Dr. Kuwamura used an approach called ALIF (Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion) meaning he operated on my back by going through my stomach! This reduces the trauma to large back muscles and speeds recovery. From that point forward I rapidly progressed through my recovery. I spent 5 days in the hospital under scrupulous and extraordinary care. After that, my recovery continued at home. I continued to see Dr. Kuwamura at certain intervals and at each visit he ensured all of my questions were answered…even taking the time to print x-rays for me so that I could explain my healing process to friends and family. Since my surgery I have been virtually pain-free. After about 6 months I was able to return to non-impact exercise and after evidence of solid fusion (about 12 months) I was released to all normal activities (running, jumping, core exercises, etc.). Since my surgery I have run 8 half marathons , 1 full marathon and 1 sprint triathlon. I am in the best shape of my life and owe Dr. Kuwamura part of the credit for “fixing” me and making me whole again.

I cannot say enough about how thoughtful Dr. Kuwamura was throughout my entire ordeal – both professionally as a doctor and as someone who genuinely cared for my well-being. I never felt (or feel) rushed when I see him and I’m thankful that I found him.

One thing I must mention is the usual backup of appointments that Dr. Kuwamura usually has. There’s never been a time when my appointment has been on time and I usually end up waiting on average an hour or more to see him. However, I feel that he is worth the wait and I know that part of his tardiness must be due to the fact that he takes his time to ensure each patient is taken care of thoroughly and with the utmost respect.

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