Dairy farmer back on the job after surgery

As a Wisconsin dairy farmer, Edward Nowak is no stranger to hard work. But hard work took on a whole new meaning when his back started hurting last fall.

He remembers radiating pain in his back. Bending, lifting, getting pushed aside by a fussy cow—nearly every farm chore became a grueling task. After a while, his left leg started going numb. It got so bad, he couldn’t sleep at night.

Trying to pinpoint the cause

It was Nowak’s dentist, of all people, who finally convinced him to get help. From there, he progressed through a series of specialists, from his trusted chiropractor, to his family physician, to a physical therapist, to a neuro pain specialist. The latter ordered an MRI that revealed the undeniable cause of his problem: five bulged discs in his spinal column. That is when Nowak came to Aurora BayCare to be seen by our Certified Spine Surgery Program team.

Three of the discs were rated “severe” for their level of displacement, and the pain specialist suggested he needed a neurologist. Nowak immediately requested Dr. Richard Harrison of Aurora BayCare, thanks to good experiences he’d had with Dr. Harrison in the past (e.g. Nowak’s carpel tunnel surgeries and his wife’s back surgery).

As Dr. Harrison explained it, the bulged discs were pinching a nerve, and that was causing the numbness and pain. Nowak says the doctor took plenty of time to review the MRI results and explain his options, but in the end, it really came down to two choices: surgery or an ever-increasing level of medication to manage the pain.

Nowak opted for surgery and had a microdiscectomy on March 8, 2018. During the procedure, Dr. Harrison removed portions of the spinal discs that were pressing on the nerve. And while Nowak’s case was indeed a tough one, advances in the procedure meant Dr. Harrison could use a less invasive approach, using a smaller incision and removing less bone than would have been necessary years ago.

Work can’t wait on a farm

Nowak’s son came home to run the farm while his father recuperated. Seven weeks later Nowak was feeling good, with no back pain and no nerve pain in his leg. “By May 1, I was pretty much back to 100%,” he says.

Nowak is grateful to Dr. Harrison and his team. “He is so smart and right on,” Nowak says. “He’s a tremendous doctor, and his staff are just the best. I owe a lot to him.”

Today, Nowak’s only limitations are around carrying, so he uses a cart to haul calf feed and other farm gear. “I can lift, I just can’t carry,” he explains. “That’s okay. At 55 years old, you don’t mind. You just have to work smarter.”

Find out why Aurora BayCare Medical Center is the first hospital in Wisconsin to receive The Certified Spine Surgery Program. This certification recognizes excellence in spine surgery and marks us as one of the leading providers in the state. Spinal care is a complex specialty. You need many experts, with distinct skills, to collaborate on the best possible care. Aurora BayCare brings these experts together to provide the highly-specialized, diverse skills you need.

We provide the full cycle of care, from diagnosis through recovery. Whether you need emergency treatment, advanced surgeries, or rehabilitation, you're in the right place.