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Neck surgery helps Henrico firefighter get back to work: ‘Best decision I made’

RICHMOND, Va. -- John Larsen is thankful to be healthy and back on the job again, answering the call for help as a Henrico firefighter. Larsen, 35, recently returned to work after having surgery for a damaged disc in his neck.

"The herniated disc created a pinched nerve in my neck which presented pain significantly in my shoulder and left arm, so I was out of work that entire time," Larsen said.

Cervical herniated discs are common, especially in younger patients in physically demanding jobs.

Dr. Matthew Mayr, M.D., a neurosurgeon with Parham Doctors' Hospital, said he has treated several younger patients who are in strenuous jobs.

"They tend to wear out their necks quicker," Dr. Mayr said. "So we see a lot of younger people with herniated discs or discs with spurs in their neck that end of needing surgery."

The cervical discs in the neck act as cushions between the cervical vertebrae. When damaged, they can press on the spinal cord or spinal nerves creating pain, numbness or weakness. Up until recently, surgeries required spinal fusions, which placed more pressure on the surrounding vertebrae, reducing the range of motion for patients.

Now doctors can perform cervical disc replacement surgery, replacing the damaged disc with an artificial one. The procedure is usually performed in an outpatient setting by making a small incision in the neck.

"Because we don't have to do a fusion, the nice thing is as soon as the wound is healed in just a few days, they can do anything they want," Dr. Mayr said.

Larsen said he was home just a few hours after surgery and feeling optimistic about his recovery.

"Once the surgery was completed, I had virtually no pain other than the incision in my neck," Larsen said.

After an evaluation, Larsen was given the go ahead to return to work. It was a welcome surprise because he once feared his condition would prevent him from working as a firefighter.

"I'm so glad I did it," Larsen said. "It was probably the best decision I made."

Just recently, the FDA approved cervical disc replacement surgery for patients in need of two discs replacements at the same time.

While surgery is usually a last option for patients with damaged discs, physicians say they're seeing successful long-term results with the replacement surgery.

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.

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