Date of Surgery: 12/14/2012
L4/L5 Spinal Fusion
Update (9/2013): Matthew continues to attend physical therapy to regain his pre-injury strength. He plans to return to Wasatch Powderbird Guides this winter.
Currently my wife and I reside in Little Cottonwood Canyon Utah in the winter and Breckenridge Colorado in the summer. My life journey started in the suburbs of Virginia. Thankfully, I was raised in a family that emphasized an appreciation of the outdoors. Growing up, we camped, hiked and spent copious amounts of time in the Virginia “woods”. At a very early age, I was introduced to skiing and the impact skiing has had on my life has been dramatic. In my early years, I skied in the hills of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York but as my siblings and I grew older, our family transitioned to ski holidays in Colorado. Fortunately, in my teens I participated in an Outward Bound course in the rivers and mountains of the American Southwest.
Because of my interest in skiing and my respect for my Outward Bound guides, I long desired to explore a career path in guiding. My first opportunity to garner a paycheck as a guide came was as a whitewater guide. A college dorm friend provided the means that allowed me to gain access to whitewater guiding on the Arkansas River. All the while, during the winter I continued to ski and study. After graduation, I relocated from Boulder Colorado to Telluride in pursuit of more skiing. Telluride led to Alta Utah and in Alta, I managed to gain traction in the ski industry as a professional ski patroller at the Alta Ski Area. My previous whitewater guiding experience was an undeniable asset. Becoming an Alta ski Patroller was instrumental in my quest to further explore alpine guiding. The avalanche awareness skills along with the practical on-mountain rescue experience laid the foundation on which I have been able to build a solid guiding career. With the confidence and skills that come with patrolling at one of the world’s most respected ski mountains, I entertained the idea of guiding for Wasatch Powderbird Guides, a renowned Helicopter Ski company based in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. After two winters of part-time apprenticeship at Wasatch Powderbird Guides I attained a goal that was once simply a far-fetched fantasy. I was brought into the fold as a full-time Helicopter Ski Guide. Getting paid to ski and guide has never been so rewarding. Currently, with the help of the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation, I am on track to return to heli-ski guiding for the winter of 2013-2014. It is my desire to continue to guide heli-skiing for the foreseeable future. The long hours, cold days and realistic frustrations that come with guiding pale in comparison to the joys of interacting with the natural world and the client base that circulates through a guide’s life. Avalanche Education and Safety have become a focus of the future as the ranks of backcountry skiers continue to grow. One of my responsibilities as a winter alpine guiding professional is to pass along pertinent avalanche safety awareness to the alpine community to ensure a safe environment for recreationists and professionals alike.
Treatment Procedure and Recovery Plan
My journey to recovery has been long. Initially, upon learning of my lower back disc issue, I consulted chiropractors and acupuncturists hoping to find a low impact route to healing. Very quickly, it became apparent that my back issue was considerably more serious than either myself or the practitioners had expected. An MRI revealed the true scope of the injury. My L4/L5 disc was severely ruptured and consequently my sciatic nerve was being pinched. This sciatic nerve pain was the source of my constant debilitating pain. At times I was unable to walk from the bedroom to the bathroom. I consulted the back specialists at The Steadman Clinic in Vail Colorado. A microdiscectomy was in order. My first microdiscectomy enabled me to return to guiding but unfortunately the injury resurfaced again after 7 months. Because of my young age, my surgeon and I decided the prudent approach was to try the same surgery again. My second microdiscectomy lasted only 3 months. After this second surgical failure it was evident that my options were to either have a spinal fusion at the L4/L5 level or wait and hope that my body would adapt to the injury and “self-heal”. I chose the latter and settled in for the long haul. I hoped that through a regular regime of stretching and “light-duty” that my anatomy would compensate for my injury and I would be able to avoid a third and more serious surgery. After three months of unyielding nerve pain, I consented to the spinal fusion. December 14th 2012 was the date and The Steadman Clinic in Vail Colorado, performed the surgery. Recovery time has included 6 months plus of steady physical therapy and 3 months of mechanical therapy. The first two months of my recovery were all about lying low and limiting my physical activity in order to allow the fusion to take hold. Once the imaging confirmed that the fusion was progressing successfully, I was able to ramp up my exercise routine. Walking on the treadmill was paramount to my recovery. As soon as I was cleared to do so, I walked daily on the treadmill and as time moved on, my speed and distance increased. Walking regularly enabled my body to rebuild muscles that had atrophied. Steadily, strength and stamina have returned. Currently, I am receiving physical therapy and mechanical therapy once a week. While, I will wait until summer 2014 to return to river guiding, I will return to full time helicopter ski guiding in Utah this winter.
"I learned of the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation shortly after my fusion surgery. After meeting with a foundation representative, we decided there was potential for the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation to extend a helping hand to me in terms of my recovery. Thankfully I was accepted into their program and have been able, with their help, to engage in a consistent physical/mechanical therapy routine. The benefits have been exceptional. With their financial help and help locating appropriate physical therapy centers I have been able to regularly (weekly) attend PT sessions. It has been 9 months since my fusion surgery and I am moving better and feeling stronger every day. The Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation has enabled me to approach my recovery confidently without the accompanying financial stress that comes with balancing healthcare costs on a guide’s wage. Just knowing there is a support network that works efficiently to ensure I receive the appropriate care and financial assistance is an incredible relief. The Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation has been my support network and their generous support has helped me return to my pre-injury health. I will be guiding again soon."
- Matthew Biddle