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Injury Took the Life I Loved. Pilates Gave it Back.

Mark Jeffe’s Story

Sometimes you have to make a hard choice quickly. Sometimes it is clear what to do. Sometimes it isn't. And sometimes it immediately changes your life.

On Christmas Eve in 1999 I suffered a severe spinal injury while playing in a hockey game. A herniated lumbar disc became fragmented and that fragment became lodged in my spinal canal causing major spinal cord compression.

By the time I got to the ER I had lost most sensation and function from the waist down. And because it happened on Christmas Eve, I had no means to choose a neurosurgeon.

The on-call surgeon that did see me said that there was a chance that I might not walk again. I was given a choice - relieve the pressure on the spine immediately through emergency surgery from a doctor I knew nothing about, or run the risk of full paralysis below my waist. To top it all off my wife was admitted to the hospital that same night for the birth of our first child!

I chose the surgery, which included a three-level laminectomy at L3, L4, and L5, a discectomy, as well as other work. After the surgery I experienced what you could call “shifts” in my back that left me absolutely debilitated. I could barely move. And as a once very active person I was no longer able to do any of the physical activities I loved.

The next five years were a combination of pain and frustration as I bounced from doctor to doctor to see if any thing could be done. I was willing to try whatever was out there but nothing seemed to work. My frustration grew.

In addition, as a salesman for an independent agency I sit in a car for long periods of time driving all over the Northeast. But after the surgery I was in agony when I got behind the wheel and became seriously worried that I might have to find another profession. As someone starting a new family that was a terrifying prospect.

Finally, in 2004, a doctor at Millar Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo told me about these guys that worked in the neurology department there. They were using Pilates as a form of rehabilitation and were having great results. It sounded a little weird to me as I had only heard of Pilates as kind of an "exercise of the stars" sort of thing. But I was desperate and agreed to see Dane and the rest of the crew at NorthStar Pilates.

I began working with Dane twice a week. We worked on core principles and some other techniques in order to build my core strength up and teach me how to move without hurting my spine until it got strong enough. The results were remarkable. After about 4 months I had progressed on to more advanced exercise and movements and my back wasn’t hurting as much. After 8 months I was playing golf! Think about that - nearly five years of pain and debilitation and then in only eight months I was able to do the things I loved doing again.

I’ve continued to work with Dane ever since and I even bought a Reformer for home use. I'm golfing, coaching my son’s soccer team and I have no pain when I'm traveling on the job.

Pilates has afforded me with a quality of life I would have never achieved it I had stayed on the same recovery path that I was on. It truly returned to me something that I never thought I would get back again.

Mark and Dane used the following equipment:

Mark Jeffe
Learn More About

» Pilates
» Pilates for Rehabilitation
» Pilates in Commercial Fitness
» Starting a Pilates Studio

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» Sally Brown’s Story
» Daniel Lyon’s Story
» Peter Landres’ Story
» Megan Fisher’s Story
» Rashmi Gandhi’s Story
» Grant Korgan’s Recovery from Paralysis
» Roland Smiley’s Challenge with Blindness
» Mark Jeffe’s Recovery from a Spinal Injury
» Marc Winter’s Recovery from Breast Cancer

About Dane Burke and Northstar Pilates

Dane Burke is the Director and Co-founder of Northstar Pilates Solutions, LLC, a provider of rehabilitation and wellness services for the Western New York region. For Dane being a Pilates-based PT gives him an invaluable tool to both evaluate and treat patients. He compares it to having a stronger magnifying glass that lets him see the details of a person's movement more quickly and with more clarity. In addition, Pilates-based treatment gives him the ability to address any limitations, both specifically and in relation to the rest of the body.

Working with Mark gave Dane an opportunity to utilize Pilates to help rehabilitate a spinal cord injury.

Because of the bone removed by the surgical procedure Mark's spine was very unstable. Initially, Dane focused the treatment on teaching him how to use his abdominal muscles to stabilize his spine in the absence of the inherent stability lost due to the surgery. As treatment progressed, Mark became more capable of stabilizing his spine and Dane began to slowly introduce spine mobilization in different planes of movement while maintaining the activity of his abdominals and deep spinal stabilizers. Basically Dane looked to create dynamic spinal stability similar to that of an uninjured spine.

Dane used all of types of Pilates equipment to expedite Mark's recovery - Reformer, Combo Chair, Trapeze Table, Ladder Barrel, and Spine Corrector. He supplemented Mark's work on the equipment with mat exercises to do at home. Being able to use the equipment was hugely beneficial for Mark because it allowed him to slowly explore movements in a controlled, supported environment where Dane could slowly introduce more challenging movements. Whether they were decreasing support and increasing the stability requirement, or increasing the mobilization of his spine, or increasing resistance to increase strength, we were able to do it all quite effectively using the equipment.

The payoff? Mark showed significant improvement and was capable of intermediate to advanced level stability exercises after four months. Exercises where the spine had to move through different planes were still problematic and rotation without discomfort was especially challenging to reestablish. But after 8 months, Mark was at a level that allowed him to do most things without pain including playing golf.

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