HILL AIR FORCE BASE — An expert climbing trainer had just warned his wife to be careful on their icy driveway. Then he walked out and promptly slipped himself.
After falling on the icy patch in February, Bill Walford found himself literally grounded.
He couldn’t stand up straight and could barely move his legs to walk.
An administrator at Hill Air Force Base and former marine. Walford had stayed in shape teaching wall climbing on base, climbing an average of 1,500 vertical feet per week.
“A special forces friend of mine at Hill Air Force Base offered me the option to try climbing during one of our team work exercises on base,” he said. “While failing miserably in the beginning, I still fell in love with the solo aspect of the climb. It’s you and the wall. Quit your whining boy, shut up and climb.”
Walford said he began holding classes at the Warrior Fitness Center on base, training others to climb, prior to his surgery.
“Climbing is a whole body workout. You use everything,” he said. “It’s physical, it’s mental and yes, it’s emotional too, if you’re driven to succeed.”
Walford said he had been having problems with his back for years, but a couple of chiropractic sessions usually provided relief. To top things off, he said he has survived a broken ankle, rotor cuff surgery, and a head injury, in which he “died” twice on the way to the hospital and was told he would be paralyzed on the left side of his body.
Now, here he was again, facing major surgery after his driveway fall.
Dr. Bob Svagr, an orthopedic surgeon at Davis Hospital and Medical Center had the task of fusing Walford’s spine together.
“Due to gradual degeneration of his vertebrae, Bill had serious stenosis or narrowing of his lower spine, which pinched the nerves that connect to his lower extremities,” Svagr said. “When I first saw him, he was in intense pain and already couldn’t walk, with his condition worsening.”
The procedure, in which Svagr stabilized three of Walford’s vertebrae with rods and screws and used a bone graft to fuse them to the sacrum would relieve pressure on Walford’s nerves by creating more space and prevent further damage.
Svagr said most people start experiencing wear and tear in their back around the age of 60 to 65 years old. To relieve pain and pressure, he said many will find themselves leaning over shopping carts or a kitchen counter.
“It’s important to try and find out what’s going on,” he said. “There could be many different reasons for the pain. Some of them can be quite serious while others can be helped with exercise.”
After six hours of surgery and four days in the hospital, Walford is back to work at the fitness center, but he’s not climbing just yet.
“I climbed for three consecutive days, performing only two climbs per day, just shy of 100 feet. But my pain was increasing a little with each session,” he said. “So I chose to quit until my body tells me I’m able to return again. I truly miss my climbing session and still go in to coach and help where I can in the mornings.”
If it weren’t for the surgery, Walford said he may never be looking forward to getting back to his normal 1,500 foot climbs.
“I feel that I was very fortunate that my brilliant wife did the specialized research to find Dr. Svagr, who demonstrated what a true caring professional does for his customers,” he said. “You can slow me down, but you can’t stop me. Quit your whining boy, shut up and ....”