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Gary Felberbaum, an active and outdoorsy man in his early 60s from Trumbull, Connecticut, loves to play tennis, but when his back started bothering him in July 2015 he had to put his game on hold. “I had had lower back issues before, so I figured, okay, I’ll do some stretches and it will go away,” Gary recalls. But the pain got worse. By fall he was experiencing a burning sensation down both of his legs and had trouble walking. “It was like my body wouldn’t let me walk,” he says. “I could only walk slowly and after five minutes I had to stop.”

With his wife, Gail, urging him to get help, Gary went to see a chiropractor and then an orthopedist, but to no avail. Massage, decompression, pain medication, and steroids didn’t help alleviate the increasing pain and weakness in his legs and lower back. In November the orthopedist ordered both a lumbar and thoracic MRI, but they provided no answers. “He suggested I see a neurologist, since there was nothing he could really do for me,” says Gary.

But the neurologist was perplexed too. “My symptoms were weird,” says Gary. “I couldn’t stand on my toes or heels, couldn’t hop, and couldn’t even walk in a straight line. I was completely off balance.” The doctor ordered more tests, including a cervical scan that finally provided the answer: Gary’s problem was not in his lower back at all, but in his neck. He had several bulging discs, putting severe pressure on the spinal cord and nerves of the spine — a condition called cervical spinal stenosis with myelopathy. Without surgery the compression and symptoms would only get worse, so Gary’s next doctor visit was with a Connecticut neurosurgeon.

“The doctor said I was a walking time bomb, and that any accident or trauma to the spine could cause permanent damage to my spinal cord and maybe even result in paralysis,” says Gary. “He said I was one fall away from being a quadriplegic, which terrified me.” Read Gary’s story

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