Surgeries can be tedious and traumatic life events. Often times, patients undergo surgery to help alleviate pain or an illness on the road to recovery.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case for some who have to endure multiple surgeries and live with chronic pain as a result. Eventually, they begin to take a toll physically, emotionally and can even break one's spirit - a concept one Warren man was all-too familiar with.
"In 1990, I had my first back surgery," said Dana Toro. "It was three ruptured discs. Since then it has just been an ongoing struggle. I became unable to walk without feeling intense pain throughout my body and numbness in my legs."
Former presidential chef Dana Toro of Warren, shown here working out, was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. He uses a neurostimulator implant to manage his pain. The device delivers mild electrical signals to the epidural space near the spine. The electrical signals cause a tingling sensation at the location of the pain. It relieves pain by blocking the pain messages before they reach the brain.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Rick Polo
Toro has been suffering from chronic pain for more than two decades. A former chef for the President Ronald Reagan administration, he suffered work-related injuries early in his career. After having several surgeries throughout the years, Toro hit a breaking point just a few years ago.
"The injuries and procedures just kept adding up," Toro said. "I got out of cooking around 2005. I was working (as a chef) for the PGA Tour at the time. Then I came home to look after my mother, and things started to really progress quicker."
Toro left cooking and entered what he thought would be an easier line of work as a janitorial technician.
"It was during that time, three or four years of doing that, that the rest of it went," Toro said. "As my back deteriorated, I adapted to other jobs, but it eventually got so bad that I needed help. I started getting numb, so I went to get an MRI and I was told my back needed to be rebuilt or I wouldn't walk again."
Toro was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. His doctors said it was imperative he undergo extensive spinal reconstruction in order to save his back from completely deteriorating. In March 2011, his doctors reconstructed his spine and made it structurally sound again. However, his troubles were not yet over.
"After they rebuilt me and I began to heal, scar tissue began to form," Toro said. "I was in a body cast for three months and underwent physical therapy. But as time went on, the pain grew more intense."
After several months of agonizing pain, Toro's doctors decided to see if he could qualify for a revolutionary piece of pain management technology known as a neurostimulator. It is a surgically implanted device that delivers mild electrical signals to the epidural space near the spine. The electrical signals cause a tingling sensation at the location of the pain. It relieves pain by blocking the pain messages before they reach the brain.
Toro was approved for the device and had it implanted in June 2012. Now he is finally able to live his life with a sense of control, since he can keep the pain at bay.
Dr. Philip Starr, Toro's primary care physician at St. Joseph Community Care Center in Warren, explained that a neurostimulator is not very easy for a patient to acquire.
"Not every patient is a candidate for a neurostimulator, but it was a great solution for Dana. I am very pleased with his progress and truly believe this is a therapy that can help a great number of people," Starr said in a press release.
"It's changed my life," Toro said. "I still have chronic pain. The neurostimulator only eliminates about 50 percent of the pain. But that's good enough for me. I feel like I can live my life again. I don't want to even think about the pain I would be enduring without it."
"If you don't have chronic pain, you don't need this," Toro said. "I cannot thank Dr. Starr and Dr. Kene Ugokwe (Toro's neurosurgeon) enough for what they've done to help me."
"We've seen some great results with patients using the neurostimulator," Ugokwe said in a news release. "It returns quality of life. Patients are able to get back to their lives without chronic pain and without additional prescription pain medications."
Not only did Toro's condition take a toll on him, but his loved ones suffered along with him. Now, however, they are just as grateful to have him back on his feet.
"Before Dana had his surgery, it was just awful watching him go through everything," said Toro's mother, Mary Lou Miller. "You'd rather see it happen to you than have to see your son go through it. But since he's had all of this done, it's really great. He helps me now. I just don't think a mother could stand to watch anything like what I had to with Dana, it was pretty bad."
Through the turmoil Toro has faced, one positive thing has occurred. He has reconciled with his once-estranged daughter.
"I had heard about what was going on through my uncle on Facebook, and the extent of how bad it really was," said Toro's daughter, Jinelle Buck of Maumee. "He wasn't in my life for a long time, so I decided to give him a call. It was the day he was in the hospital for his surgery, and he was in extreme pain. Now, he's driven up to my place four or five times in the last year and has been able to get close with my child, too."
Toro feels as though he has a new lease on life. He's excited to use his new home gym, get back into shape and live his life to the fullest.
"I wish more people can qualify for this. That way they can avoid having to take and become addicted to prescription medications that are only a temporary fix," Toro said. "A lot of people are still suffering, and through all of this, I'd like to somehow reach out to them and let them know there is hope."