Jake Brandt

Jake Brandt

Jake Bradt can easily recall when his back pain became a problem and would go on to affect the next two years of his life.

The Rockford resident woke up one morning in February 2017 and felt pain when he bent over. Initially thinking he’d just slept wrong, Jake waited a few weeks before going to the chiropractor.

“Any relief I got was very temporary,” he said. “It was measured in hours, not days.”

The next step was a visit to his primary care physician, who did an X-ray and prescribed a combination of medication to help manage the pain. Jake’s insurance wouldn’t approve an MRI before he completed physical therapy, so he signed up for an eight-week PT treatment plan.

By October, Jake was bed-ridden about 90 percent of his time. He could only sit or stand in 20-minute increments because of the discomfort. An MRI showed he had a herniated disc in his lower back, which explained the chronic sciatica, or severe nerve pain, he’d been dealing with in his back and right leg.

“You can never get comfortable. It impacts sleep, getting dressed, having dinner – everything.”

An end in sight

He saw a pain management physician and underwent a series of epidural injections starting in November 2017, which only minimally helped. By January 2018, the pain was still there, but he was back on his feet again, which was critical for someone who is self-employed. Jake is the founder and owner of Rockford Buzz, a comprehensive online guide to all things Rockford, including events, business and organization listings, and news.

“I’d have two weeks that were manageable and two weeks of flare-ups where I basically couldn’t play with my son and I couldn’t work,” he recalled.

A third injection in March didn’t help and by August, he had a flare-up that wouldn’t go away. He was 33 at the time and was worried about having surgery at such a young age, and he had been told he likely wouldn’t be a candidate for surgery because of his age.

That’s when he scheduled a consultation at Rockford Spine Center with Dr. Christopher Sliva, who told Jake he was, in fact, an excellent candidate for surgery. They discussed options and he decided on a microdecompression, a minimally invasive procedure that would get him back up and moving within two weeks.

“It was like someone opened the door to the end of the tunnel instead of the end being a pinprick 12 miles away,” Jake said. “You could see the outside, that there’s an end to this.”

“It’s a common misconception that younger patients aren’t good candidates for surgery, but disc-related problems can occur even in the teenage years,” Dr. Sliva said. “We know most conditions get better with nonoperative treatment, but if the pain and discomfort is still there after a few months, young patients do extremely well with surgery. With our minimally invasive approaches, surgery is more appealing than in years’ past. Not only is there less tissue trauma from the surgery itself, those younger patients recover quicker.”

Getting back to life

Jake had his surgery in November 2018. He arrived at the hospital at 5 a.m. and was home before noon the same day.

“All I have is a scar that’s less than an inch long down my lower back,” he said. “I was on my feet and walking that afternoon. I could tell the pain was gone. Even days later, I could tell what I was feeling was post-surgery pain, not that sciatica nerve pain.”

He took a week off work to recover and was able to return to work part time the following week. A few weeks after that, he started physical therapy and got clearance to start working out again.

Jake still makes it a priority to stretch and work out as part of his recovery, to build up his core muscles and protect his back from future injury. There are many moments he still realizes how far he’s come – like spending a few hours playing with his now-5-year-old son at Rock Cut State Park when 15 minutes of playing previously would have left him in pain for nearly two days.

“Having the mental space freed to not just constantly plan my life around managing this pain was huge,” he said. “My son is happy daddy’s feeling better.

Jake ultimately was happy he saw Dr. Sliva and that he identified that Jake’s problem was fixable.

“I think Dr. Sliva breaks the mold. He’s polite and patient. Everyone on his team I worked with is great. I felt like they got it.”