Career-Saving Back Surgery for Olympic Weightlifter Melanie Roach Featured on NBC's Today Show with Spine Surgeon Who Made Her Dream Come True

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Watch Olympic weightlifter Melanie Roach and her “Spine Doc” Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. of D.I.S.C. Spine and Sports Center on the Today Show with a heartwarming look at how he helped make her dream of reaching the Olympics come true. Following a successful microdiscectomy in late 2006 for a severely herniated disc, she was under the gun to train for the US National Championships a mere six months later. Up and walking within hours of the surgery, she was back in the gym five days later to start her quest. She will go for the gold on Aug. 10.

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Athletics aside, I am so glad I did it just for quality of life purposes. Because when you have the deep sore ache in your back it affects every part of your life and your daily routine including picking up my children. Other people suffering back pain should really consider exploring this type of surgery.

Viewers of the Today Show were treated to a heartwarming comeback story about a petite 117-pound weightlifter and mother of three, Melanie Roach, who was able to achieve her Olympic dream of competing in Beijing thanks to the skillful hands of neurological spine surgeon Dr. Robert S. Bray, Jr. of D.I.S.C. Spine and Sports Center, who routinely operates on professional, elite amateur and Olympic athletes along with high-profile celebrities from around the world.

One of the country’s preeminent neurological spinal surgeons Dr. Bray specializes in minimally invasive microscopic procedures with more than 9,000 procedures to his credit. In the fall of 2006, he performed a 45-minute minimally invasive outpatient microdiscectomy under a high-powered Zeiss microscope to remove three fragments pressing on Roach’s herniated disc.

Unlike years past, when back surgery meant an end to a sports career, today advances in technologies and instrumentation for these surgeries are now career-extending. With significantly reduced trauma to the surrounding tissues and less post-operative pain professional athletes to weekend warriors and the general public are benefiting greatly from these minimally invasive techniques.

Patients are enjoying faster recovery times and are able to return to active lifestyles with reduced pain and more functionality. Roach’s incision for her microdiscectomy was a mere inch. She had less than a teaspoon of blood loss and was walking around within hours of her surgery.

"I am absolutely thrilled for Melanie that she was able to get her lift back," Dr. Bray said "She has had to overcome so many obstacles in her personal and athletic life and now her dreams have finally been realized. Her dedication and perseverance are an inspiration to the rest of us. Melanie truly embodies the Olympic spirit and wish her all the best as she continues this journey. I am glad to have played a small roll in this triumph."

An eight-time U.S. champion, Roach had battled a herniated disc beginning in 2000 that saw her hopes dashed prior to qualifying for the Sydney Olympics. It was only through intensive soft tissue work with chiropractor and massage therapist Greg Summers that she was able to compete at all. Knowing she needed to explore other options, in 2006 at the World Championships, she spoke with Dr. Michael Reed, the USA Weightlifting doctor, who suggested the microdiscectomy and Dr. Bray.

"If it wasn't for Dr. Bray and the wonderful job he did on my surgery I would never be in this position," Roach said. "At first I was a bit apprehensive because you hear about so many horror stories with back surgery, but I knew a lot of wonderful people that really believed in Dr. Bray and I went on faith. The main reason I selected him was the fact that he understood the mind of an athlete."

Roach's surgery was performed in late October. The day after her procedure in Southern California she returned home to Washington without the pain that had plagued her for so many years. Within five days she began working out and within two months was back doing Olympic lifts. A remarkable seven months later, she had her best results in nine years at the U.S. Championship lifting 406 pounds and followed that up with a bronze medal at the Pan American Games in July.

"The care he put into my surgery, taking extra time to save every muscle fiber possible, to speed the recovery, peeling away the muscle, just stretching it rather than cutting it made the recovery that much quicker and smoother," she said. "Dr. Bray was so smart and open minded. He gave me guidance, but trusted me and my coach John Thrush to let me go at the pace I was comfortable with and trust my body. My back is stronger than it has ever been and within seven months I was 100% and beyond what I was before the surgery.

"Before, I had no idea the surgery existed and thought that this was the pain I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life," Roach said. "Athletics aside, I am so glad I did it just for quality of life purposes. Because when you have the deep sore ache in your back it affects every part of your life and your daily routine including picking up my children. Other people suffering back pain should really consider exploring this type of surgery."

Microdiscectomys are generally performed to remove part of a problem disc. The discs are the pads that separate the vertebrae. This procedure is commonly used when a herniated or ruptured disc is putting pressure on a nerve root. By removing the injured portion, the disc is left intact and functioning. This minimally invasive procedure, when performed with the aid of a microscope, prevents scarring around the nerves and joints and helps patients recover more quickly.

"Melanie's case is the perfect illustration of treating a back injury or back pain initially through conservative measures and then selecting surgery as the last option," Bray said. "Her procedure also highlights the revolution taking place in this field. In the past, back surgeries were very lengthy, required long hospitalization stays and extended recuperation and rehabilitative periods. Today, even some fusions can be done on an outpatient basis and innovative stabilization devices that implanted maintain range of motion. Melanie’s situation is far from unique and it is important for people suffering from back pain to do their research and learn as much as they can about the variety of options available to them with a qualified surgeon."

About Melanie Roach: Melanie is the mother of three small children under the age of six, one of whom is autistic, owner/operator of a not-so-small business (gymnastics training facility) with over 500 students, wife of fourth term incumbent Washington State House of Representatives legislator, Sunday school teacher AND one of the strongest women on the planet and will now take on the world at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Other highlights include: 2007 Pan Am Games Bronze Medalist; 8 Time US National Champion; 2006 Pan American Championships Bronze Medalist; 5 Time US World Team Member & 2000 US Olympic Team – alternate.

About Dr. Robert S. Bray, Jr.: One of the country's preeminent neurological spinal surgeons specializing in minimally invasive procedures, Dr. Robert S. Bray, Jr. was the first California neurosurgeon to specialize in this highly-skilled field. During his 26-year career he has performed more than 9,000 micro procedures, trained 27 Fellows, published numerous articles and holds a number of patents for devices and instrumentation.

About D.I.S.C.: Established in 2007, by Dr. Robert S. Bray, Jr., D.I.S.C. is redefining patient care by providing a multidisciplinary center that provides a full spectrum of services conveniently housed under one roof for an unmatched quality of care. Specializing on spine and orthopedic ailments D.I.S.C. offers next generation diagnostics, conservative care and pain management, interventional treatments. The state-of-the-art surgical center that is among the finest in the country, recently announced it is "infection free" after 18 months of operation and more than 1,200 procedures. Bringing together the expertise of a variety of specialists from the fields of spinal neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, physical medicine, pain management, soft tissue mobilization and chiropractic services along with alternative treatments of acupuncture and oriental medicine. The D.I.S.C. team is committed to an unsurpassed level of personal, compassionate care, driven by the most current technology, research and education.

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