Name: Marty Mitchell.
Immediate relief: Nobody in his walking group may be more appreciative than Mitchell for his ability to stroll pain-free with friends three times a week, especially since he was up and walking outside last summer about a month after undergoing his second back surgery, in July.
"I felt immediate relief!" Mitchell says while expressing gratitude to Dr. Joel Hoekema, the surgeon who performed the operation on his vertebrae.
First surgery: "I first had back surgery in 2006," Mitchell says. "I was having horrible pain. By that time in my life the vertebrae in my back had all fused, except for the L/4 L/5 vertebrae.
"The pain was all on my left side, caused by pressure on the nerves. I endured it for about a year before I underwent a lumbar laminectomy. Right away, it eased pressure and pain. It was like day and night."
Relief not permanent: About six years after his first surgery Mitchell was dismayed to be developing a similar kind of pain early in 2012 on his right side. That time, however, he knew what was coming if he was going to be pain-free again.
"I had thought I was done with surgery after the first one," he says. "But tests showed I had developed spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column) on the right side. Dr. Hoekema is head of a team of orthopedic surgeons at St. Joseph and I am so grateful for his skill. He did a five-hour fusion surgery. Again, I felt immediate relief. Dr. Hoekema tells me I'm set for 20 years."
Up and around: Mitchell marvels at the miracle of modern surgery.
"I went in on a Tuesday and I was home on Thursday," he says of his second surgery. "I was soon walking a little. It was about a month, while I was recovering, before I could rejoin my walking group."
Family issue: Recalling his father's back problems: Mitchell recalls how, as a young man, he had a hard time understanding his dad's back issues.
"I believe my back problems developed naturally, because my dad had the same issues," he says. "His spine also fused on its own when he was in his 40s and 50s. He became very stiff.
"He was always asking me to pick up things and I couldn't understand why. Now I do - it's kind of like, what goes around, comes around. It's helped me be more sympathetic to people who have physical limitations."
Pain-free, for a while: Despite the ever-increasing stiffness he began to feel at the same age his father did, Mitchell recalls pain was not an issue for many years.
"I took up golf 27 years ago and I'm still a fair-weather golfer," he says. "My back wasn't painful for a long time, but it just got stiffer and stiffer. Over the years I've had to adjust my swing."
Taking a knee: Mitchell's two surgeries - he has two metal plates and four screws in his back - have ended his pain, but he's had to adjust to fused vertebrae that have left him without flexibility.
"I can't bend over to pick up something off the floor," he says. "I have to hold onto something and get down on one knee to do that."
Walking and talking: A little more than a year ago, before he had to cope with a second onslaught of pain, Mitchell accepted a friend's invitation to join a group of retired men for hourlong walks three mornings a week. "I love being part of our walking group," he says.
He also lifts weights and works out at a gym.
Literacy tutor: Mitchell enjoys tutoring two immigrants in English as a volunteer for Whatcom Literacy Council. "I really think I get more from them than they get from me," he says.
Loved his career: Mitchell, who moved to Bellingham with his wife, Priscilla, in 2005, retired after a 29-year career as a program manager for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"I loved my work," he says. "I worked in San Francisco and Phoenix in community development and homeless programs."
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.