By Pat Maurer
Clare County Sheriff John Wilson is back at work after back surgery in Germany that he calls a “miracle.”
He said he had been suffering and struggling with lower back issues since 2004, when he was hurt during an altercation with a Michigan Department of Corrections parolee. “Once injured it seemed like I would go a year or so then hurt my lower back again cutting wood, running, or just moving the wrong way. I had tried several different medical treatments over time, with nothing lasting. By the time 2012 came around I was in extreme daily pain…to the point of having to come home from work early almost every day to lie down,” he said.
By last year, Wilson knew he would have to do something, but continued to postpone any kind of surgery because of the election. After the election, tests showed he had “a disk leaking fluid, with the one above it herniated.”
“At this point I had two choices, to continue to live like I was, on pain medicine and lying on the couch the majority of the day or to have triple fusion surgery which only gave me a 50% success rate. The 50% success percentage wasn’t very acceptable to me at 46 years-old,” he said.
He said his sister Kathy Balzer had a co-worker who had worked with her at the Veteran’s Hospital in Saginaw, and told her about her husband’s similar problems. He had gone to Germany for surgery which was a great success. “Kathy did a lot of research into artificial disk replacement that was offered in Germany. Previously in the summer of 2012 I had sent copies of recent MRI’s over to be reviewed by the German Surgeon. I received a response that I was a candidate for a two level Artificial Disk Replacement,” he said.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t want to go to Germany,” he said. “I was worried about being away from my family and in a foreign country where I had never been before. Another factor was that we had to pay up front for the surgery and we could not afford to pay the amount needed. This is where my sister (My Angel) came in and said ‘You are going to Germany and have artificial disk replacement (ADR)’. She said it was no different to her then if she had to give me one of her kidneys. She said, ‘This is easier. I can help you financially’.”
He said, “I talked this over with my wife extensively over the prior months leading up to this point. My parents also said that they would help with the cost of the trip and surgery. Hey, I prayed about it and guess what? God answered by paving the way and setting everything in motion. I applied for my passport and got it in only two and a half weeks. That is fast.”
It still wasn’t an easy decision for John. One thing that helped him decide was having someone he could depend on to leave at the Sheriff’s Department. He had just hired former Police Chief Dwayne Miedzianowski as Undersheriff.
He said, “When I left for Germany I had 100% trust in him and his management skills. He exceeds all expectations that I have for an Undersheriff. I believe that he needed to move on to something larger and more challenging after being at a small police department. This is the largest law enforcement agency he has worked for and if I had to put words in his mouth I would say he loves it. I’m so much more relaxed with Dwayne on our team because I know that all decisions will be well thought out with the public’s trust in mind.
Once John made the decision to go through with the trip and operation, it took only a matter of about three weeks to get the money around and wired to the hospital in Germany. American currency had to be exchanged for the Euro, plane tickets were bought, and John said, “I was packed in a matter of 10 minutes like most men can do.”
He continued, “We decided that my wife Karen would stay home with the boys and my sister Kathy would go along with me. Kathy is a pharmacist and currently working in Johnson City, Tennessee at the VA Hospital there. My sister Ann is also a pharmacist and works for the VA in Battle Creek, Michigan.”
Things began to go even faster for Wilson. John and his sister Kathy left the United States January 21; flew to Frankfort and then to Bremman, Germany near the Stenum Hospital, which is a twenty minute taxi ride west of the city.
Wilson and his sister were housed in a hotel across from the hospital. And on January 24, he went through all of the preoperative test and x-rays. He was one of four patients there for ADR surgery, three from the U.S. and one from Canada. “I was the only one there who was having a ‘two level disk replacement’,” he said. “I was told I would be the first one in the morning to have surgery.”
Dr. Karsten Ritter-Lang performed Wilson’s surgery early January 25, and before he knew it Wilson was waking up and it was over.
“When I woke up from surgery Kathy (My Angel) was standing at the side of my bed with an x-ray in her hands. She said, “look at this; this is what is in your back”. Then she put the x-ray on me and took a picture of it with me in the back ground. I told her that this better not show up on Face Book, my eyes are half rolled up in my head because of the anesthesia.”
By the next morning John was moved to normal recovery rooms. “I was able to get out of bed and walk down the hallway of the hospital unassisted that morning,” he said. “I noticed right away that the radiating pain that used to start in my lower back and go down both of my legs was gone. I only had pain from the actual surgery from that time on.”
For the next five days, John walked. Around the hospital, up and down stairs, “as much as my body would allow,” he said. “I had no braces or any other type of orthopedic type of device to help me stand or walk. It was truly a miracle!”
has performed over 6,000 artificial disk replacement surgeries with a 99% success rate, Wilson said.
After five days, Wilson and the other three patients were moved to the Park Hotel in Bremman. “Part of the recovery is staying in this hotel where we can walk and rest in a very comfortable environment. By the second day there, we took a cab to the city square where I was able to walk for three hours without getting tired.”
Each day was better, Wilson said. “I was actually able to enjoy the sites of old Germany. It was an odd feeling being in a country we were once at war with.”
Wilson spent 17 days in Germany and said by the time he came home he was spending 20 minutes a day on the treadmill.
“Today I’m back to lifting light weights, walking, and doing physical therapy only eight weeks after major back surgery,” he said. “What this means to me is that I should have 100% recovery and I’m already pretty close to being there. Without the help and love of my family, my mother and father, all my sisters and brother, I would have not been able to do this. I have my life back because of God’s love and my family’s unconditional love for one another, especially my sister Kathy who will always be my angel on earth to me.”