A double visit to the Spinal Foundation - a wife’s perspective, by Susan Huckstep


In the early 1990s my husband Stephen suffered a back injury. For the next four or so years he struggled on with the injury, continually in trouble, sometimes so bad that he would spend nights unable to sleep due to the pain. He sought the help of physiotherapy, chiropractors, acupuncture and epidurals, all to no avail. He was even offered a huge spinal fusion repair to a damaged disc, which, frankly, we all feared.

Stephen had been a competitive cyclist, competing as an international for a French team for a number of seasons, but found it impossible to compete at his previous level.

By chance I read an article in one of my magazines about Mr Martin Knight and his work at the Spinal Foundation, then in Rochdale. I made an appointment for Stephen to see him and after a consultation, x-rays and MRI he offered a ‘one stop’ repair, to include; discectomy, disc rear wall reconstruction and disc decompression. Stephen had the surgery in April 1997 and after just one night in hospital he returned home to recover.

The improvement was immediate, after a year he was absolutely as good as he had ever been, competing on the bike, once again on the continent. He was back involved in building projects at home and enjoying a full family life.

10 years after the repair Stephen was as strong as he was 20 years ago. Each season he was competing from March to September, travelling and racing throughout England, France and Belgium.

During the winter of 2007/8 Stephen had prepared well for the season ahead and was within a week of his first competition in March when a car that was travelling at 75mph ploughed into him from behind. We are told that he was thrown onto the bonnet of the car and his head went through the windscreen, before he was hurled over the roof into the air, to land on the tarmac. He was unconscious and woke up in the Intensive Care Unit at Margate Hospital, unaware how he had got there, but we realised something was badly wrong. The pain in his back was terrible, matched by much of the rest of his body. Amongst many other problems he was diagnosed with a crush injury of the L1 vertebra, clearly now ‘wedge-shaped’ on x-ray. At the local hospital the decision was for a ‘conservative’ treatment, a spinal corset for 3 months, with the crushed vertebra to set in its collapsed state.

On the day after the accident I phoned Christine at the Spinal Foundation from the hospital in Margate. Mr Knight was operating in France, but she e-mailed him with our predicament. Mr Knight e-mailed me straight back with the list of x-rays he wanted to see, detailing exactly how he wanted them taken. I arranged for the x-rays and CT scans to be sent on a computer disc to the Spinal Foundation by next day recorded delivery. Mr Knight contacted me by phone the following day, having studied the images and we had a long phone conversation on the Friday evening. Mr Knight suggested a procedure called Kyphoplasty and we agreed for him to go ahead as soon as possible. Given that Stephen is an athlete and hugely active it was imperative for him to have the vertebral height restored in order to minimize the risk of damage to the discs above and below the damaged vertebra, which were being squashed by the wedge shaped crushed vertebra.

The arrangements were made for him to be admitted to the BMI Huddersfield Hospital the following Tuesday, time was of the essence, each day the vertebra was starting to set and we had to operate before the bones began to fuse.

At the start of April we travelled from our home in Canterbury to Huddersfield for the surgery, Mr Knight was there shortly after dawn and he began the procedure immediately. We knew exactly what to expect having had several conversations with Mr Knight and having studied videos of the surgery on the internet. After the operation Stephen felt pretty sore, but Mr Knight encouraged him throughout.

Now, many weeks after surgery the spinal repair is fantastic, with very little trouble, (unfortunately Stephen has other problems with the head injury that are proving much more difficult). The Spinal Foundation arranged for Stephen to attend a specialist spinal physiotherapist nearer home. Stephen’s crushed spine is now a distant memory and once again we are eternally grateful to Martin Knight for offering this breakthrough and revolutionary surgery that has given my husband a ‘third chance’.