From a Walker to Walking Freely and Without Pain in One Day

From a life of near paralysis to snatching a 230-pound halibut out of Alaskan waters in less than two weeks is a story Darwin Beckel will always tell.

“I was suffering severely because of spinal stenosis,” said Darwin, who had undergone unsuccessful back surgery at another hospital in 2010, and decided to contact Dr. Burak Ozgur, a neurosurgeon specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery who also directs the Spine Program at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.

“It was an amazing surgery for me at Hoag (in June 2012),” Darwin added. “I was in surgery for eight hours, and Dr. Ozgur decompressed and cleared everything out, all the bone around the constricted areas, one in the thoracic area and three in the lumbar area (lower back). It was all done with micro tools and a microscope, and I was walking the next day, pain free.

“Now I walk with no pain, no walker and no cane. The man is a miracle worker. Anyone taking eight hours with a microscope to make it perfect is really unbelievable. He is a Southern California super doctor. 12 days after the surgery, I was fishing in Alaska, and to (Dr. Ozgur’s) credit, I caught several 25-plus pound king salmon, and then a 230-pound halibut, all by myself. I was totally flabbergasted.”

Reeling in anything 230 pounds, let alone a fighting halibut, certainly demonstrates physical strength, but to have the lower and upper back to support such endeavors not long after surgery is remarkable.

“Everything came together and I went on my annual fishing trip to Alaska 12 days after surgery,” said Darwin, 67 and a Camarillo resident. “Without pain and with a wider range of mobility in my legs, I had a fantastic vacation, fishing every day …”

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which occurs when the growth of bone or tissue, or both, reduces the size of the openings in the spinal bones. Because the narrowing can squeeze and irritate the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord, it can cause pain, numbness or weakness, most often in the legs, feet and buttocks, according to Hoag’s WebMD. It is most often caused by changes in the shape and size of the spinal canal as people age.

“As you can tell, I am very pleased with Dr. Ozgur's surgical help,” Darwin said. “He certainly met more than my expectations. Having been in pain and becoming paralyzed in my legs, I was hoping for some relief of the pain and some of my mobility back. However, to my surprise and amazement, I was essentially cured. The pain was gone the next day and I had the notion I wanted to walk almost immediately which the therapists led me through only 14 hours after surgery. I left the hospital able to walk and be without cane, although I used it for several days at home.”

Dr. Ozgur is double board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery and the American Board of Spine Surgery. He received his undergraduate degree in biological sciences at UC Irvine and attended medical school at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine. Dr. Ozgur also serves as the Director of the D.I.S.C. Sports and Spine Center in Newport Beach and is on staff both at Hoag Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, specializing in minimally invasive surgical techniques for common degenerative and complex disorders of the spine, including tumors, scoliosis, and trauma. Dr. Ozgur has a strong interest in stem cell research, spinal biomechanics, and innovative minimally invasive spine surgery development and research.

Darwin said two years ago he had surgery on the thoracic area to “clear things up,” but realized after seeing statistics that total success from back surgery “was a 50% chance kind of thing,” and sure enough six months later the pain of spinal stenosis was so severe again that he started researching doctors on the Internet about minimally invasive spine surgery.

“I didn’t want to get opened up again,” he said. “I had been through surgery once, and now I wanted something different.”

For Darwin, going from severe back pain to walking without a cane in less than 24 hours was a miracle.

“I’ve got the best surgeon in the world in Dr. Ozgur and Hoag Hospital is absolutely the best hospital there is, with the help and everything I got, from the room to the service, everything,” said Darwin, a retired aerospace industry executive. “They went way beyond what I thought they would do. It was a happy experience for me, very much so. It was probably the best hospital I’ve ever been in, in terms of care. I’d never suffered from anything like this before, but Dr. Ozgur’s surgery was absolutely 100% successful. I took a big hit having surgery on the spinal cord the first time, but after this time I didn’t have any pain and there were no complications. I’m gardening and fishing and doing things like before I started suffering from so much pain. I was another person. I’d do anything for that doctor. He gave me my life back.”

The new Hoag Neurosurgery Spine Program​ is a comprehensive approach to treating what affects almost everyone at some point: back pain. The program offers patients a full spectrum of options that encompass conservative therapies such as massage, physical therapy and pain management to the most cutting edge minimally invasive surgical techniques.

“Dr. Ozgur had to go in and take care of the original surgery, which wasn’t completed, but it was partially successful in getting the decompression down, but a lot more was needed to get done,” Darwin said.

By Richard Dunn​​