The worst part: He no longer felt like the guy that his family needed him to be.
About 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives. And it’s the most common cause for job-related disability and a leading cause for missed days at work.
Hope was restored when Dr. Chase Bennett, a spine surgeon at Novant Health Brain & Spine Surgery, recommended a new minimally invasive procedure called a lateral lumbar interbody fusion (XLIF).
For Hepler, it was a decision that changed his life.
Hepler is a self-proclaimed “Daddy’s boy.” Originally from Welcome, he used to wait by the window for his father to come home after a long day of work at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in nearby Winston-Salem.
“Dad always made time for us,” he said. “I used to follow him into the basement where he taught me everything there is to know about woodworking.”
He also learned from his dad how to be a man of integrity, a loving husband and an engaged father.
Hepler has never shied away from hard work. After graduating from North Davidson High School, he went on to work in various manufacturing positions throughout his career. He also hit the jackpot when he met his wife “on the other side of these trees” in Clemmons, where they now live. Together the couple have three children and one spoiled grandchild.
“I have always taken a lot of satisfaction in being able to provide for my family,” he said. “But after a career of hard labor, I started noticing pain in my lower back in 2013. At first, I thought it was just fatigue, but it only got worse.”
At that point, a non-Novant Health orthopedic practice gave Hepler two steroid injections to ease the pain. The injections worked for a few years, but the pain persisted.
“It got so bad that my posture began to change,” he said. “My boss and co-workers would see that I was hunched over all the time and I could tell they were worried about me.”
His pain led to depression. It also caused him to take a break from woodworking. “My mind wanted to do things,” he said, “but my body just wouldn’t let me anymore.”
Last year Hepler’s primary care provider, Margaret Bovender a family nurse practitioner at Novant Health Hillsdale Medical Associates, referred him to see Bennett.
It was there that Hepler was diagnosed with severe disk degeneration and slippage between the vertebrae (spondylolisthesis). The culprit: Age-related wear and tear between the discs and small joints in his lower spine.
In Hepler’s case, the spinal column had shifted eight millimeters out of alignment and his pain level was constantly between a five and 10.
“I noticed right away that this was a guy that just wanted to get back to work to provide for his family,” said Bennett. “He knew surgery was the next step, but he was afraid of having to deal with a long recovery time that is common with traditional open back surgery.”