Steamboat Springs man finds hope after 20 years of chronic pain
Steamboat Springs — A host of physical health problems — primarily neck and spine related — had plagued Steamboat Springs resident Michael Gilbert for 20 years when he began searching for a neurosurgeon to set him straight.
After a series of surgeries and multiple recovery periods, Gilbert is finally feeling like himself again. In part, thanks to posture-correcting clothing, and he is hoping his story will inspire others to keep fighting their battles against physical pain, even if they seem hopeless.
“Within the next two years, I will finally be back to where I was, only in tip-top condition,” Gilbert said.
A former semi-professional golfer, Gilbert said he had experienced “mind-numbing pain” for more than a decade when in 2006 he launched his Subaru off a snow bank in Hayden, breaking vertebrae in his neck and causing ongoing complications.
“It’s a miracle that I didn’t become paralyzed,” he said.
Eventually, an orthopedic surgeon built a makeshift cage inside Gilbert’s neck to stabilize his bones, allowing him to return to work as a car salesman — holding jobs at Cook Chevrolet, Steamboat Motors and Victory Motors over the years — but unbearable neck and back pain never subsided.
“The pain just kept on continuing,” said Gilbert, who hit a low point on New Year’s Eve 2013.
Out of work because of the pain, Gilbert picked up a gun and considered taking his own life.
“It was a very, very grim time in my life,” he said.
Then, last July, Gilbert finally found a neurosurgeon who promised to help him say goodbye to 20 years of chronic pain.
Dr. Ben Guiot from South Denver Neurosurgery was able to start fresh, rebuilding Gilbert’s spine entirely.
But a serious staph infection set Gilbert back just 10 days into recovery.
“My son found me lying on the ground,” said Gilbert, who was airlifted to Denver for another pair of surgeries to prevent paralysis and keep him alive.
Gilbert’s latest year of recovery has been the most monumental, and he now envisions a life he never thought possible, thanks in part to rehabilitation guidance from staff at SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
It was at SportsMed that physical therapist Christy Kopischke first outfitted Gilbert with a posture-correcting shirt and brace from AlignMed.
The products have recently gained nationwide media attention, including a spot in USA Today, for the dramatic posture-correcting effects that the company and users claim, including the ability to activate and retrain muscles, reduce pain and increase mobility.
“It feels like you’re sliding into heaven,” Gilbert said,
The company makes everyday, customizable and prescription clothing that corrects a person’s posture using elastic tension bands.
Kopischke said that even prior to outfitting Gilbert with the AlignMed SpinalQ product, it was clear he was making strides in his recovery.
“He started therapy at a very low functional level and has made significant gains in his balance, strength, endurance, pain and function,” she said.
Between the Alignmed clothing and last summer’s successful surgery, Gilbert said he’s finally feeling like himself again after 20 years of pain.
Last week Gilbert swung his first golf club in over a year, and he recently took his daughter fly fishing, things just months ago he thought he would never do again.
“I’m not trapped inside my body anymore. I’m not in hell anymore,” Gilbert said. “Hopefully, [my story] will give some people some hope and seek out medical care to fix themselves.”
Until last week, Gilbert held onto the bullet that almost ended his life less than two years ago.
“That bullet is a reminder of how bad things got and how good things are now,” he said.
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