Bruce Smith refuses to let obstacles slow him down. When the former landscaper was in early 20s, nearly 40 years ago, he experienced a major neck injury that required him to undergo his first spinal surgery.
Bruce was riding his horse during a team roping competition and the horse slipped in mud, causing the horse to fall. They both fell at the same time, and he ended up with a hairline fracture in his neck.
Unfortunately, his spine issues didn’t stop there. He’s a spine surgery veteran — having gone through six additional operations on both the lower and upper areas of his spine.
His most recent, and probably most complicated, spinal surgery was going to require a true expert. Bruce was referred by two different neurosurgeons in the Bakersfield area, where he lives, to Keck Medicine of USC.
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Raymond J. Hah, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the USC Spine Center of Keck Medicine of USC and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, was ready to take on the challenging case and get Bruce back on his feet.
“I got to the point where I was having a hard time walking and sleeping,” Bruce said. “I had constant pain and was hunched over most of the time. When I went in and talked to Dr. Hah, he told me that I needed some serious work and he could definitely fix it. That’s what I wanted to hear.”
The surgery involved a multiple fusion reconstruction. Bruce had gone through a similar operation five years prior, after he took a bad fall and damaged his lower-spine area. He had gone through months of physical therapy, but he was still experiencing major pain in his back.
Bruce’s first surgery at Keck Medicine of USC proved to have the shortest recovery period he had ever experienced.
“I kept calling Dr. Hah and asking him if it was too early for me to get on my tractor and pounding some of my fence posts,” Bruce said. “He said he loved my attitude but told me to please take it easy.”
When he looks back at his experience, Bruce is very pleased with Dr. Hah and his team’s personal touch.
“I’ve been to many good hospitals, but honestly, of all the surgeons I’ve seen, Dr. Hah was the most humble and genuine,” Bruce said. “He explained the procedure to me in layman’s terms beforehand. He called me on his personal cellphone more than once just to check on me and told me I could call him at any time.”
Bruce had a minor setback — his car was rear-ended on the highway two months after his operation, causing whiplash and some soft tissue damage, but he’s on the mend and looking forward to returning to his regular routines.
“Thank God Dr. Hah and his team did such a good job,” Bruce said. “After the surgery, right before this kid rear-ended me, I was even out on my tractor doing some work on my land.”
Bruce has had a couple of follow-up visits with Dr. Hah, and he says if he ever needs to have his eighth surgery, he wants Dr. Hah to do it.
“When I went back, Dr. Hah said, ‘Wow, look at you. Boy, I sure wish that half my patients had your attitude and tenacity,’” Bruce said. “I told him, attitude is 50 percent of the equation, and the other half was the work that he did.”
The ability to face life’s many challenges head on, jumping back on the tractor and never giving up. That’s just another example of The Keck Effect.
By Ramin Zahed