Cauda Equina Syndrome Personal Story David Unthank

My Life With Cauda Equina Syndrome – David Unthank’s Story

My story, of my life with Cauda Equina Syndrome, in my own words.  On video.  Enjoy!


What happened? 

I was moving a concrete splash pad.  Not far, just 18 inches.  I tried to lift and slide it… not good.  I stood it up on its end and walked it – perfect.  Later that night, I got up out of the recliner to go to bed.  My lower back felt “funny” and a little stiff or tight.

I awoke the next morning with sharp pain running down my right leg.  On the 10 scale, I rated it a 5.  Kim set an appointment with a Chiropractor for the next morning.  By the time I got home from work, my pain level was at a 10.  I had never felt such pain.  I took pain meds and went to bed.

In the wee hours of the morning, I partially awoke but still dreaming.  It seemed like my legs were going numb.  I feel back asleep.  In the morning, I awoke to find that I had no feeling below my waist.  Knowing something was very wrong with me, we kept the early appointment with the Chiropractor, with me in a wheelchair.  She suspected Cauda Equina Syndrome and recommended I go directly to an Emergency Room.  I did.

What was your experience there? 

The ER told me that I did not have Cauda Equina Syndrome and they gave me a referral to a back specialist.  We didn’t want to wait that long.  Kim called our Doctor to get a MRI ordered; we then waited 2 days for insurance approval with the MRI happening on Friday, Feb 15th.

My Doctor got the results on Tuesday the 19th and referred me immediately to a neurosurgeon.  I saw him 2 days later.  He wanted me in the hospital now for surgery the next day to decompress the spine.

It was Cauda Equina Syndrome after all – an emergency surgery situation.

Problem – I was on a blood thinner and they couldn’t operate then.  I stopped the med and went into the hospital on Sunday, with the surgery the following day, the 25th.

What surgery did you have? 

The surgeon performed a L4/L5 microdiscectomy to remove parts of a ruptured disk in order to relieve the pressure on my spinal nerve bundle.  The disk had ruptured directly into the canal and had crushed the nerves controlling the lower ½ of my body.

What happened next? 

I spent a week in Acute Rehab, learning how to walk and shower when you can’t balance or feel anything below the waist.  Human’s use their feet, ankles, and legs to balance – I was getting no feedback from them.  Although the surgery relieved the pain, nerves only regenerate at about 1mm per day, and then only for about 12 – 18 months.   So getting all of my feeling back was a long shot.

How is the recovery going? 

Physically – After Rehab came Physical Therapy.  Some normal feeling returned to parts of my thighs.  The rest stayed numb or got tingly painful.  Now, 10 months after the injury, feeling has returned except in the areas covered by underwear and from the ankles down.  My feet are very painful and I have a possibly torn tendon.  I’m having that checked next week.

Emotionally – I viewed myself as a Christian with a deeper than average faith and commitment to Jesus.  Yet I found myself asking God why this had happened, wanting to know His purpose for it.  Through teaching from Living On The Edge’s Chip Ingram, I realized that God had placed His mark and reminder on me.  It was time for the next step in my faith journey.

Of course it wasn’t that easy!  It was a lot of anguish, soul searching, prayer, and crying that led me to one fateful night where I placed my Cauda Equina Syndrome into His hands.  I wanted Him to use me however He could.  He was asking to yield to Him in everything and I was finally at the point where I realized that I couldn’t do without that.

What’s the outlook? 

I do not know where God will take me.  I do have a busy 2014 lined up!  Kim and I are launching a Small Group Ministry at our church, I am preparing for and taking the Certified Management Accountant professional exam, and putting my experience with Cauda Equina Syndrome I am becoming involved in a support and education non-profit for Cauda Equina Syndrome which is seeking to grow worldwide.  I certainly won’t have much spare time!  Not bad for someone who a few months ago was staring a lifelong disability in the face.

I’ll always have symptoms, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be a part of me until my dying day, but it will NOT define me.  It is God’s tool to keep me humble.