Bodybuilder Wins Championship after Eleven Back Surgeries

Ronnie Rowland had been to all the best doctors from every top clinic in the United States. He had given up hope after nine failed back surgeries and was resigned to a wheelchair. But a new procedure disc cages got him back into the gym, eventually winning a bodybuilding championship.

I’m Ronnie Rowland, I’m 47 years old, and I’ve been a personal trainer for 29 years. I’ve had eleven back surgeries, Dr. McCord did my last surgery and put in disc cages with a new technique I highly recommend. I had my first surgery when I was 21, I hurt my back racing motocross when I was 18. I had a laminectomy at 27, and then a surgery every six months until then. At that point they couldn’t get my back to fuse, and that was the biggest problem. Doctors would go in and put more bone in from cadavers and it just wouldn’t fuse.

I went to the best doctors in the world. They just said nothing can be done.

I went to the best doctors in the world. I had Mayo Clinic, Back Institute, Johns Hopkins, Sams Murphey Clinic, Duke, Vanderbilt...all the doctors, all the best doctors. They just said nothing can be done, the fusion looked good, it was just scar tissue causing the pain. At that point, I’m suffering. My legs are giving out. The last doctor here in Nashville referred me to Dr. McCord and I thought I’d like to see what he has to say. Dr. McCord said “I think I know what’s wrong.”

My back was so bad he had two other schedule surgeries for that day and had to cancel them to fit me in. It took him 12 hours to do the surgery. That was two years before he helped design the cages. So I had the old school fusion. That got me to where my leg strength came back and got me going again. That lasted about 19 years until about a year and a half ago my legs started getting weak again. Dr. McCord went in again with the new procedure of disc cages and lined my back up. I was carrying 75 more pounds of weight on my right foot. I had a chiropractor come in the gym, checking to see how level everyone was. I took my shoes off, he asked what are you doing I said I want to see how level I am. He said you can leave your shoes on, I said no I have inserts in. I stepped on the scale and he saw 75 lbs extra on my right leg and he was freaking out. He said “I’ve never seen anything like it, what’s going on?” I said I’ve had all these surgeries and knew I’d have to have more surgeries. So I contacted Dr. McCord and he said yeah this doesn’t look good.

I waited for him to perfect the cages, I wanted to wait and make sure it was perfected before I had surgery. I held out as long as I could because I already had so many. After the surgery,

I lined up perfectly, I don’t have to wear inserts I can stand up straight and I’m almost 2 inches taller. I can sleep through the night, I don’t have to take nearly as much pain medication that I used to take. I’m just in a better mood, I look younger and feel younger. I’m more focused. I’ve been working on a book for Premiere Fitness, and actually Dr. McCord’s going to be in the book. I want people to know there is hope.

At one point I didn’t think there was any hope left, because I went to all the best doctors. When you go to the top doctors and they tell you there’s no hope, they all say the same gets to the point where you’re like, okay, there’s no hope. And then you see all these other people hurting, they say “This doctor he cut on me and made me worse” and I’m thinking gosh, I’m gonna be in a wheelchair. Before I found Dr. McCord I was in a wheelchair because my legs were so bad they had to wheel me around to do the tests. My left leg was giving out and my right leg was worse, so I was in bad shape.

The feeling in my legs are back! I train people on machines, I do a lot of back and knee rehabilitation. I want people to know there is hope. Don’t buy into the fact that they can’t help you, because it’s not true. I’m living proof I mean it’s the eleventh back surgery I had. There’s nobody I know of that’s had eleven back surgeries and done a bodybuilding show, and can do what I can. If I wouldn’t had met Dr. McCord I wouldn’t be doing anything, I could even sleep from the numb pain in my legs. Didn’t matter what I took. I could take a ton of Zarontin which is seizure medication, I was taking Elavil for burning pain, narcotics, muscle didn’t matter I was still sleepless. But now I can sleep right through the night, it’s great. It’s just hard to believe.

I want people to know there is hope. I'm living proof. There’s nobody I know of that’s had eleven back surgeries and done a bodybuilding show.

When I walked into the gym right after the surgery everyone was like “Is that Ronnie?” Because I wasn’t limping, I was straight up, they said I looked 20 years younger. They were really surprised! Weight training is good for your back if you do it right. If you do it wrong,

yeah it’s going to be bad for you just like anything else. But you have to get your back functional before you can do any of this. Otherwise it’ll just irritate the problem. I’d try to just get on a bench press machine with 45 lbs and the pain would just shoot down my legs for a week. It was miserable and wouldn’t let up. It’s hard to believe now, because I can do it now with no pain in my legs it’s amazing. These doctors did all these tests...x-rays, CT scans, myelogram, MRIs, electrical study where they shocked me, they did a discogram and they found nothing wrong. They said “We don’t know what’s wrong, we can’t help you.” Again they said it was scar tissue, but it wasn’t. I like how Dr. McCord takes bone from your hip, there’s less chance of your body rejecting it. A lot of doctors take shortcuts by using cadaver bone, and that was a big problem I had because my body was rejecting the bone and they didn’t realize it. Taking the bone out of the hip wasn’t painful I didn’t even really feel it. I don’t know what he’s doing but it really worked good. The more muscle you have on you, the less pain medication will work because you have more receptors that require additional pain medication to feel it. But once you get over that initial hump you’re going to bounce back quicker. So it’s very important to start working out. He let me start working out lightly two months after surgery, and three months I can hit it hard and gradually work up for six months. At that point I knew I could really lift hard without it hurting my fusion.

I want to let everyone know there is hope. Don’t give up just because a doctor says you can’t be fixed because it’s not true. If you have multiple surgeries, yeah you’ll always have some degree of pain, it’s just the way it’s going to be. But as far as pain where you can’t sleep at night, and having to take high doses of won’t have to live that way. Whatever Dr. McCord does, it works. I’m not trying to beat up other doctors because there are other good doctors out there, great doctors out there, but whatever he’s doing is a step above and beyond.

One of the things different about Dr. McCord is he has confidence. He’s not afraid. And that’s one thing I noticed a lot of back doctors are really afraid and fearful. That makes people feel uneasy because it shows a lack of confidence. If he doesn’t think you’ll need surgery, he’ll say no let’s hold off and not do this. And that’s a sign of a good doctor as well. Confidence means he knows what the problem is, he knows how to fix it, he knows what he’s got to do. A lot of doctors are too iffy, they’re like “uhhhhhhhhh I’m not sure. Maybe we could do this type of surgery, we could put an X block in here maybe we could do this here…” Dr. McCord doesn’t do any of that. He’s perfected a procedure that he uses for everybody and he’s done it so much and becomes better at it. He’s not all over the place.

A lot of doctors are too iffy, they’re like “uhhhhhhhhh I’m not sure. Maybe we could do this type of surgery, we could put an X block in here maybe we could do this here…"

That’s one problem with spine surgeons in general...they all have these different theories and they’re all over the place. We ran into that with personal training with all these different training styles and people get hurt, they don’t get results. Nobody’s on the same page. If there’s any orthopedic doctors watching I hope they’ll listen to what I’m saying. Look at Dr. McCord and what he’s doing, so everyone can be on the same page. When a doctor is indecisive, it makes the patient nervous and they’re going to have more problems. I know it’s not an exact science that’s why they call it practicing medicine, but when doctors are guessing with all these techniques and treatments, just find what works simple basic stuff and do it right. Dr. McCord has figured out what is the best treatment for most people. He’s done it so many times he knows what to do, what to look for if something goes wrong. He doesn’t do treatments that he can’t go back in and fix it. Don’t ever do a treatment that you can’t go back and correct it later. I know nothing’s absolute in medicine but he’s got it down to an art.

I’d like to encourage people listening to think about that for a moment. Do you want to have a surgery with a doctor who does all these treatments but not really sure themselves… “Well, it might help you, it might make you worse…” Or do you want a doctor that KNOWS hey I can help you. He’s got the testimonies to prove it.

When I first started surgery my family and friends were like “Oh yeah you’ll get back into working out, you’ll get back to your job, you’ll be doing all that again.” But after a while they gave up and realized okay, you’re not going to get better. They realized I had seen all the best doctors, and they were really skeptical when I went to see Dr. McCord. They didn’t expect me to get better. But they were like WOW we are really surprised and blown away. It blew me away. I just knew there was someone out there that had an answer, and he did. People don’t need to be afraid of his technique. They’re going to come out better. Sitting around in pain you’re going to be depressed, your family’s going to suffer, you’re going to push people away. You won’t even know you’re doing it, but you’re going to push people away because you’re hurting so bad you just want to be left alone. You get to the point where nothing matters.

Dr. McCord is here to give you your life back. He’s got the knowledge, you just got to trust him. That’s what I did. I don’t ask him every little detail because it would take him weeks to explain it to me. Doctors are really busy and you’ve got to find the right doctor. And he is the best doctor out there. I’ve already been to all the others so I know!

I can walk so much better, I’m at the gym, people notice me and say I look so much younger. Just getting a good night’s sleep has allowed me to focus more and not take so much pain medicine.

I’m 14 months from the last surgery he did for me. I can walk so much better, I’m at the gym, people notice me and say I look so much younger. Just getting a good night’s sleep has allowed me to focus more and not take so much pain medicine. I take very little medicine. That pain medicine...I know you guys out there are hurting and you got to take it for relief. But you don’t have to take as much if you get your back fixed right. It could take a few years for the nerves to heal up after surgery, I’ve still got more healing to go. So I’m really excited to see how I do. These cages are really good, whatever he’s doing it’s good. I know other doctors are doing this technique now too. I showed another friend who had cages put in and I showed her how Dr. McCord helped design them and was very impressed. An anesthesiologist I know said back in the day Dr. McCord was seen as a rebel here in Nashville. Other doctors didn’t like him, he was doing stuff the rest of them weren’t doing. They thought he was doing all this crazy stuff that’s going to hurt people. But now it’s all mainstream, he was just ahead of everyone. It’s called innovation. I know that I’m going to get the best care with him. He’s not going to do anything crazy outlandish and use you as a guinea pig, it’s going to be proven. But at the same time he’s got common sense. You want something he can go back in and fix if necessary. You don’t want anything experimental because if it fails you could be crippled. He could probably do surgery in his sleep.

One of the first doctors that really messed me up was talkative and really funny. But as far as going in and doing the surgery, he couldn’t do it. Every time he went in he made it worse. Yeah he’d spend an hour talking to me, but he could not fix me. It just got worse and worse and worse. You can’t judge a doctor by how much time he spends with you or what he says...found that out too. Because the good doctors are busy, especially nowadays. Patients want all these explanations and I understand that, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack trying to find a good doctor. And you’ll hear someone say “I went to this doctor, he was good.” I went through that too. I’d go there and they can’t help me or they’d do a surgery and it got worse. I got very lucky to find Dr. McCord, and others were lucky too. I haven’t found anyone who said they went to Dr. McCord but said another doctor was better. Everyone said they were lucky, he got them standing upright for the first time, it’s always something positive. When it comes to orthopedic back surgery he’s the best in the world, no doubt about it. Because I know what the “best doctors” told me how I was going to be, taking all this medicine. Eventually you have to take more and more medicine, and people start thinking I’m addicted to pain medication. Then you really start feeling bad about yourself. The people around you see this vicious cycle of hurting and taking medication, your body builds up a tolerance. Now I only have to take very little pain medicine and it works. Before I was taking all kinds and not doing me any good at all.

When I was 18 I was a professional motocross racer, that’s what started my back trouble. I wrecked and got ran over by another motorcycle. That was done, I knew I wouldn’t get back on a motorcycle nor did I want to at that point because I knew I could get paralyzed. When you’re 18 you think you’re invincible, but when you get hurt you’re like Oh man! You can’t take back what happened to you. So I had two passions, one was to be a motocross racer and the other was to be a professional bodybuilder. I didn’t have the genetics to be a bodybuilder, but I had the knowledge. I trained lifters and they got their pro cards. It didn’t bother me that motocross was taken away from me because it was getting to the point where I was racing so fast it was getting pretty scary putting your life on the line.

I was trying to weight train, my friends were training, and I’m watching them get into shape and I just wanted to do something, it was killing me. That really bothered me for a long time. I’d try to lift once a week and my legs were hurting so bad for sometimes two weeks

after. A friend invited me to drive his new mustang, I couldn’t even push the clutch pedal in, it was so painful. He said they’re something mad wrong with me. I said I’m sorry I can’t drive your car. He said “you’ll get back into working out again” but after multiple surgeries he said I need to give it up, I’ll never get better. I was really devastated I couldn’t work out. After Dr. McCord fixed me, just being able to get back into lifting felt like revisiting my youth. You wouldn’t believe how much better I feel about myself. It was like living again. I’m training people to work out, but I can’t do it myself? It was so hard on me that this was my profession I could do anymore. Everyone’s asking me “why can’t you do this?” It was so hard. But people were surprised when I finally got back into working out! I got back into doing bodybuilding shows, and the third competition I won the Masters in 2011. The judges said “We’ve never seen anyone who’s had that many surgeries do a bodybuilding show, much less win the show!” They were really impressed. I never thought I’d be able to lift weights again but then I win the show so I was really proud of my accomplishment. That there goes to show you that THERE IS HOPE!

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