John Frana

John Frana

John Frana knows health care, and when he needed back surgery, he looked to Rockford Spine Center to help him develop a recovery plan that didn’t include the use of opioid pain medication.

Frana, 73, is a longtime national consultant for community health centers as president of theFranaGroup in Rockford. He was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease about three years ago and sought out four opinions about his condition. Frana did the research because if surgery was necessary, he only wanted it done once.

One of the first physicians he saw told him the MRI of his spine looked as if he was 89 years old when he was only 69 at the time.

In 2017, Frana struggled with weakness in his legs and overall instability because nerves in his back were being pinched. He wasn’t experiencing back pain as might be expected, which is common for his condition. The calf muscle on his left leg atrophied with time and became smaller than his right calf. Some nights, he experienced virtually no discomfort; other nights, the discomfort made it difficult to sleep.

“I didn’t get that same discomfort during the day, which was the real zinger,” he recalled.

The same year, Frana was introduced to Rockford Spine Center after attending an informational event about minimally invasive surgery at the facility.

At his first appointment with RSC’s Dr. Christopher Sliva, Frana said Dr. Sliva told him surgery might not significantly help his condition at that time. So Frana met with Dr. Marie Walker, who specializes in nonsurgical neck and back treatment, and nerve testing. The nerve testing confirmed surgery would be necessary to relieve the pressure on the nerves.

In January, Dr. Sliva performed surgery that unpinched the nerves at Frana’s L4, L5 and S1 vertebrae, which are all located in the lower back. He also fused vertebrae to stabilize Frana’s spine.

Frana recalled the “incredibly thorough checklist” and education before the surgery, saying Sliva, Physician Assistant Brad Wolf and Nurse Megan Liszka were “spectacular” partners.

As for his recovery, Frana worked with Dr. Sliva and Wolf so he wouldn’t require opioid medication for pain relief. The American Medical Association and physicians nationwide are researching and pursuing alternative methods to relieve patients’ pain in light of the opioid epidemic affecting the U.S.

Frana invested in a therapy device that circulates cold water and assists with reducing pain. He wore it on his back about four to six times a day, reducing the use to about two times a day a month after surgery. The cooling helps with pain relief, but it also requires a person to sit still for about 30 minutes. He also did physical therapy to help regain strength and proper movement in his back, core and legs.

Post-surgery, Frana said he experienced some discomfort but no significant pain. “It was pretty slick,” he said. He saw Dr. Sliva for a six-month checkup this summer and his prognosis is good. He’s working with a personal trainer at the YMCA to help build his strength and further his recovery, and he can feel strength coming back in his left leg.

He remembers thinking the surgery seemed more intense than what he wanted but was “ultimately the best solution.”

“I was impressed by (Rockford Spine Center),” he said. “Some places just stand out better than others, and the doctors there really do. It was a good outcome.”