Story by: Nick Picht; Reviewed by Kirk Owens II, M.D. on July 17, 2023
David Noonan’s interest in the spine spans decades.
It started on the football field, after he experienced an injury in his neck that eventually required disc replacement surgery. That moment led him into the field of chiropractic medicine, helping his patients navigate their own spinal issues throughout his career.
In his early years, David also pursued a bodybuilding career, participating in competitions nationwide throughout the 1980s. During that time, he finished first in the Nevada state championship and the North American championships. He’s also competed in several triathlons and marathons, priding himself on staying in shape as he ages.
But in December 2021, at age 60, the retired chiropractor needed some spinal help of his own. He was in the middle of a round of golf when the pain forced him off the course.
“It’s like a psychology student trying to figure out their head, right?” David said. “A chiropractor goes and tries to figure out his spine.”
The pain became unbearable, and after exhausting all conservative options, David began looking for a surgeon who could put him back together permanently.
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At this point in his life, he already had undergone two spinal surgeries — his prior disc replacement and a microdiscectomy in his lower back. The third surgery would be his most intense. He needed the right doctor. Eventually, he connected with Kirk Owens II, M.D., orthopedic spine surgeon with Norton Leatherman Spine.
After several conversations, the spine surgeon and chiropractor agreed on surgery.
“I found Dr. Owens, and we hit it off,” David said. “He showed a lot of respect for me as a patient and a professional. I liked the way he suggested things. And as soon as I made a decision, it was like a big relief. I think the dark moment went away. I was like, ‘OK, so now I have a plan. I’ve got a guy who I trust, and we’re going for it.’”
Dr. Owens diagnosed David with spondylolisthesis, or instability of the spine, causing one vertebra to slip forward in front of the other, pinching the nerves in the back and causing sciatic pain. David also was experiencing spinal stenosis, thanks to a cyst growing into his spinal canal.
In February 2022, Dr. Owens performed a minimally invasive TLIF surgery, short for transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, fusing David’s L4 and L5 vertebrae.
“The biggest discussion that we had before surgery was really which levels to do, how many levels to do,” Dr. Owens said. “In his instance, what I tried to do was tailor the procedure to what I thought he needed. You could easily have looked at his MRI and his X-rays and said, ‘you need a fusion from L3 to S1,’ but listening to him, understanding his symptoms, I thought that L4 to L5 was causing most of his symptoms.”
The results were dramatic. David was nearly pain-free in a matter of weeks and quickly started his rehabilitation schedule. First, he walked laps around the track at his gym. At the three-month post-surgery mark, he began lifting 15-pound kettlebells and increased his workload as the months progressed.
As chance would have it, David eventually found himself back onstage again.
In January, 10 months after his operation, he was named a finalist in a corporate challenge for people who make a healthy transformation in their lives. He was awarded a trip to Dallas, Texas, for the event, a cash prize and a professional photo shoot to show off his progress,
It was a chance for him to prove both to himself and others that a healthy lifestyle is attainable and sustainable after a major surgery.
“I’m not slowing down,” he said. “[Surgery] is a big choice, because through your spine, that’s where your life force runs. And anything that affects that, affects your life — your limbs, your body, your strength. It’s like cutting a wire on any kind of appliance. Until you fix the wire, the motor’s not going to run right.”
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