It Took 40 Years and Four Physicians to Diagnose One Man’s Intense Back Pain – and One Day for Him to Feel Relief

Jan Mondrus of Farmingdale, NJ, credits reclaiming his life from pain to finally finding the right doctor

After decades of pain, musician and avid gardener Jan Mondrus was able to reclaim his life by finally finding a spine surgeon who could treat his fractured spine.

Jan Mondrus was in his 20s, riding in the back seat of a car with a group of friends when he arched his back and felt a flood of pain. It was the first time the musician, now in his mid-60s, experienced an intense spasm in his lower back. After getting out of the car and lying flat on the ground for an hour, he got up and the group got on its way. Little did Jan know this would be the start of a tumultuous 40-year journey toward beating back pain and ultimately regaining his life.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening back then,” says Jan. “After a few more occasional back spasms, I went to my doctor and had an MRI. He said I had herniated disks and at that point, there was nothing he could do for me.”

Years later, after more painful spasms that temporarily left Jan unable to walk, he saw another doctor and got another MRI. The answer was the same – he was not a candidate for surgery or physical therapy.

“I was told to return when I wasn’t able to walk more than a block. At that point, surgery would only be able to make me feel about as good as I was at that appointment, and that wasn’t very good,” adds Jan.

Without any intervention, Jan’s spasms continued intermittently over the next 20 years.

“When enough time passed between episodes, I thought they might be over with. But then my leg started hurting,” he explains. “Soon, I couldn’t walk or stand up for very long, and I couldn’t sit in most chairs. I was essentially incapacitated.”

Fast forward through another physician consult with an orthopedic surgeon, a diagnosis of spondylosis – essentially a fractured spine – and epidural shots that actually worsened the pain, and Jan found himself researching spine surgeons.

“Dr. Scott A. Meyer at Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists stood out from the crowd because of his expertise with complex and minimally invasive spine surgeries. After reading up on his experience, I knew he was the kind of physician I wanted to work with,” Jan notes.

“When Jan first came in to see me, he was struggling to walk, and his leg was three-quarters of the way numb,” recalls Dr. Meyer, a board-certified neurosurgeon. “We needed to formulate a plan quickly – keeping in sight a solution that would offer him the best long-term results.”

Dr. Meyer performed a laminectomy, a type of decompression surgery, to alleviate the pressure Jan’s spine was exerting on his nerves, as well as spinal fusion to correct the structure of his vertebrae.

“Going into surgery, I had no guarantees that I would ever feel my leg again. Lo and behold, I regained feeling and felt relief the very next day,” says Jan. “By the second day, I was walking around the halls of the hospital without a walker. I felt great.”

After getting the staples out of his back one month following the procedure, Jan – an avid gardener – was back to digging in his garden by hand, walking two miles a day and cleared to play tennis – one of his favorite sports, which another physician said he would never be able to play again.

“Jan’s story highlights how important it is for patients with spine injuries to consult with a neurosurgeon who focuses specifically on the spine. Neurosurgeons have the specialized expertise to diagnose and properly treat cases involving the complex and delicate nervous system,” notes Dr. Meyer. “If Jan had resigned himself to being restricted by his pain, the ending to his story would be quite different.”