B. Thomas Mazahery, MD
By the time he was 30, Stephen was a spine surgery veteran. It began in college when he was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in his spinal cord. To remove the tumor, neurosurgeons had to cut open the back of his neck and take out part of his cervical spine. The resulting pressure reversed the curvature of Stephen's neck, a condition known as cervical kyphosis. Despite a second surgery to relieve his symptoms, the degeneration and kyphosis worsened.
Stephen stayed active as long as he could. He even participated in his first triathlon. But neck pain radiating down his arms made competition difficult. A few years earlier, Stephen's father had undergone successful cervical spine fusion with Thomas Mazahery, MD, an OrthoVirginia surgeon specially trained in cervical spine techniques. "My dad was very happy with the outcome, so I decided to see Dr. Mazahery for my issues as well," Stephen says.
Dr. Mazahery recommended revision reconstruction spine surgery to take pressure off the nerves and relieve Stephen's arm pain. During the procedure, he removed the previous instrumentation, as well as the affected discs and bone spurs, and fused the curvature at those levels. Scar tissue and hardware from earlier surgeries made the procedure challenging.
When Stephen woke up from his procedure, he felt instant relief. His pain was gone and he was able to walk down the hospital hall that evening. With his neck now fully fused from C3 to C7, he set about training for his first half ironman, known as Ironman 70.3. Within 10 months of his procedure, he completed not only the half ironman in Raleigh, but also a full ironman in Maryland.
"Ironman Maryland was such a huge thing for me; it gave me so much joy," he says. "As I got closer and closer, I had no back or neck issues. It was the most pain free I'd been in 15 years." Stephen credits Dr. Mazahery's skill, as well as his understanding of his capabilities as an emerging athlete, for such a successful recovery.
Ironman triathlons are no longer a hobby for Stephen, they are a lifestyle. He and his wife train together and plan to participate in multiple races later this year, including the Timberman in New Hampshire and Ironman Maryland, where Stephen will try for a personal record. "For me, it's all about taking full advantage of what I'm able to do physically and maximizing my opportunities," he says. "I'm always striving for a better number and a faster time."