Pain Will Not Define Her

A car accident in 1971 left Judy Digon a young widow with a badly fractured back. But when she tells her story, Judy doesn’t dwell on the pain. Her 69 years have taught her how to manage pain, both the emotional and the physical, and to appreciate her blessings.

Instead, Judy moves quickly into how she learned to heal and to thrive. She became one of the first women entrepreneurs in the nation’s traffic safety industry, helmed prestigious organizations, won national accolades, built a successful business and eventually found love again.

Then, on a 2014 trip to Spain with her second husband, pain came careening back into her life. Someone in a crowd shoved Judy to claim a cab, sending her flying through the air. She landed against a steel stanchion, breaking her back and tearing away the scar tissue that had formed from her previous accident. For the woman who was so good at overcoming pain, pain came to define her life.

“My husband and I cuddle at night, and that was taken from me. I golf with my husband, I swim, I walk. We own an antique gallery and travel,” she said. “We just have a busy and active and social life, and I didn’t feel as though I could participate in my life with any kind of quality.”

Even sitting was excruciating. Other physicians had advised her to do nothing – but nothing led to further injury, including spinal rotation, neck pain and injured kneecaps. After two years of what Judy felt was incomplete treatment from other providers, she was introduced to Hoag neurosurgeon Burak Ozgur, M.D., chief of service for the Neurosurgery Spine Program at the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag.

“Dr. Ozgur is exceptional and a rarity in the medical profession. You are treated with respect and immediately realize you are not just a number but valued as a person who has varying levels of concerns, pain and individual demands and lifestyles. He doesn’t just hear, but listens and his demeanor is positive and compassionate. He wanted to help return me to the things that were important to me. Recommendations for surgical intervention and expectations are concise and clearly defined. Most importantly, you are confident that these same skill sets will be a part of the surgical process,” she said.

Taking the time to understand each individual in his office is one of the hallmarks of Dr. Ozgur’s practice. In addition, his office is meticulously organized, every person on his staff is professional, caring and responsive. Dr. Ozgur knew that returning Judy to her active life was important to her. To repair her broken back, Dr. Ozgur recommended minimally invasive surgery planned in three stages.

Then he recommended something truly surprising.

“Dr. Ozgur really encouraged additional surgical opinions,” Judy said. “He wanted to make sure that all of my concerns were addressed, and I was as confident as he was of the planned surgical intervention. Dr. Ozgur’s compassion is shown in his level of interest in your case and the impact of your lifestyle. That’s why I say he’s a real rarity, and the most competent surgeon I have had the pleasure to meet.”

The surgery Dr. Ozgur recommended was less drastic than those proposed by other surgeons. His procedure would involve a shorter recovery time, a return to Judy’s favorite activities, and most importantly, less pain.

Judy underwent surgery on June 20. Four days later, she got her hair done and attended a close friend’s 50th anniversary party.

“Dr. Ozgur wanted to make sure I could return to the things that were important to me, and for the most part I have been able to do that,” she said. “I was in chronic pain, my pain never let up, never stopped. Now I do have some pain, but it is very manageable. I feel better about life. I’m able to sit, able to sleep on my side. Dr. Ozgur has given me back a quality of life that I thought was gone permanently.”