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KENSETT — It was hard for Scott Walling to slow down.

But last summer, his body didn’t give him much of a choice.

“It hurt to sit. It hurt to sleep. It hurt to breathe. It hurt all the time,” said Walling, 50, of Kensett.

The pain in his back — excruciating at times — made working as a heavy equipment operator at a quarry challenging for years, but it wasn’t until July that it became nearly impossible.

It was then, Walling, hardly able to stand, called his wife, Erin, to bring him to MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center in Mason City, where he had an MRI.

At an appointment a day or so later, a doctor said surgery to repair his back would likely leave him in a wheelchair.

His first thought?

“How am I supposed to take care of my family?’” he said. “That was my biggest fear ... I didn’t know what was next.”

Robo Spine 2

Scott Walling's daughter, Emma, kisses him on the cheek as leaves to run errands Tuesday at their home in Kensett.

Walling, who was being treated by Mayo Clinic for rheumatoid arthritis, reached out to his rheumatologist for a referral. In August, he saw a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician who provided him a steroid injection, but when it didn’t significantly reduce his pain, he was referred to Dr. Mohamad Bydon, a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Bydon diagnosed Walling with spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one vertebra slips forward and onto the vertabra below it, causing severe back pain or nerve crowding that produces leg pain or numbness.

“The first thing he says is, ‘This is fixable,’” Walling said.

Bydon was confident a new surgical procedure involving robots would help Walling.

Mayo Clinic began evaluating various options for robotic spine surgery in 2016 before offering the procedure for individuals with “spinal instability” at its campuses in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida in 2018, Bydon said.

Robots provide more accurate and safer placement of instrumentation during spinal surgery, he said, adding several dozen cases have been successfully and safely completed across Mayo’s campuses.

Walling was scheduled for minimally invasive lateral lumbar inner body fusion followed by robotic placement of posterior pedicle screws on Nov. 1.

The months leading up to his surgery were miserable.

“It was very hard for me to sit in that chair day after day because I’m a busy person,” he said.

Walling’s surgery took 10 hours, and he was in the hospital for four days before returning home to Kensett.

For eight weeks, he wore a back brace and attended physical therapy to improve his mobility and strength.

And today, Walling says he’s never felt so good.

“I have zero pain now, except for my rheumatoid arthritis, which is under control with medication, but I’m able to do whatever I want and I feel fantastic,” he said. “I haven’t felt this good in years.”

Robo Spine 4

Scott Walling stands in his blacksmith shop at his home in Kensett on Tuesday. Blacksmithing, once a hobby for Walling, is now a small business that helps support his family after having robotic-assisted spinal surgery in November.

After Walling was let go from his job as a heavy equipment operator, he decided to turn a hobby of his into a business.

Windy Acres Ironworks is a custom blacksmith shop he operates out of his shed in Kensett, which has allowed him to leave the years of “wear and tear” in construction behind him.

Walling believes had he listened to his body and not ignored his back pain for so long, it wouldn’t have gotten so bad, but he’s grateful there was something to alleviate it.

The robotic spine procedure has given Walling his independence back. He’s able to enjoy trapshooting and attending his daughters’ activities at St. Ansgar without pain or discomfort for the first time in years.

“It’s a blessing,” he said.

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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