Dale's Story updated, 26-February-2008 (28 months post-op - by Mark)

It's been over 2 years since I went to Bogen and Straubing with Dale and Julius for her 3-level lumbar ProDisc. Her surgery was of mixed success as she still has substantial leg pain even though her back pain is mostly resolved. I've seen her once since the surgery, now about 18 months ago. She looked good then, but the pain was still written on her face. You must remember, that I usually get to meet my clients while they are going through the surgical ordeal and I rarely get to see them 'recovered'. Sunday, Diane and I went to Dale and Julius' house for stuffed cabbage and blackout cake. (We both have eastern European heratige, so we connected on our 'soul food'.) It was a wonderful evening!

One of the things that we discussed was Dale's criteria for success. She said that she 1) wanted to be able to care for and play with her grandchildren; 2) paint again (she's really good); and 3) be able to cook for her family.

I'm happy to report that she's three for three. (Times like these are absolutely the best part of my job!)


Global Patient Network and Mark Mintzer
By Dale Steuer

3-level ProDisc (lumbar)
Bogen, Germany - October 2005

Dale's husband Julius, Mark, Dale, Helen (also 3-level lumbar, same day!)

When Mark Mintzer asked me to write a small commentary on his services, he really put me on the spot. First, there is no way I could limit my comments… and there is no way I know of to actually describe an angel. I could not imagine having gone through this without Mark. The emotional impact of this impending surgery was enormous. Add to that the frustration of foreign travel and dealing with doctors and you end up with something overwhelming and almost insurmountable. If I had to summarize I would say that he brought sanity to an insane time.

I first ‘discovered’ artificial disc replacements in the summer of 2004 and located a somewhat local doctor. I had to wait three months for an appointment, a month for a discogram and almost another month for the results, which revealed four bad levels. My doctor had to petition the FDA for a compassionate use permit and estimated a three week to three month delay which would be followed by his own three month backlog. By April, 2005, after not hearing from my doctor and his not returning any of my phone calls, my frustration level forced me to the internet which eventually led me to Mark Mintzer. I contacted Mark as a crazed female with no direction, fearing I would have to spend the rest of my life as a handicapped hermit, no longer able to enjoy life as I had known it. He listened to my ramblings before he knew whether I would actually utilize his internet services and within minutes, his soft voice, belying his size, reassured me there was help. He pointed me in the right direction and though terribly busy getting ready to attend a conference in New York, gave me all the time I needed, while explaining the services he could provide. Having already seen his website and thinking his fees were more than reasonable, I immediately became his newest client. This proved to be my best investment in the ADR world.

The Rathaus (city hall) in Bogen

While he was in New York, I gathered my records, x-rays and MRI’s and within days of his return, we were ready to go. He contacted Dr. Bertagnoli in Germany on my behalf, who in less than one week, was ready to accept my case. I too had contacted Dr. B just prior to contacting Mark and still hadn’t received a response. Feeling I needed more information, Mark also contacted a local doctor who could explain the actual procedure and provide specific information about my condition and what to expect. He got me an appointment that same week. Please understand, I couldn’t even get a doctor to return my phone call within a week. With the three month average wait time for an appointment, I was beginning to believe this angel thing. For referencing a timeline, this was May, 2005.

Let me explain that neither my husband nor I wanted to go to Germany. I cannot stress this point enough. My reasons don’t matter… I did not want to go to Germany, period. If at all possible, having surgery out of this country was out of the question. I also must mention that the Charite disc had FDA approval for one level. Approval for the ProDisc was expected in early 2006.

My husband and I saw the local doctor and were so impressed with his confidence that we scheduled a fusion and three level Charite ADR with him for mid-July. One week prior to my surgery, with all surgical tests completed, my insurance company denied coverage. I fought for two months.

During this entire time, Mark, without telling me what to do, strongly suggested that the complexity of my case, two previous back surgeries and four levels with a possible fusion, required Dr. Bertagnoli’s experience and the ProDisc. Though aware of my stifling fear of going to Germany, he stayed vigilant in his recommendation during my fight with Blue Cross. By September, 2005 I threw my hands up in defeat and agreed to go to Germany and have Dr. B do my surgery. With no financial participation from Blue Cross, and with the cost in the U.S. more than double the cost in Germany, including airfare, food and lodging, the choice was taken out of my hands. Either I have the surgery in Germany or I don’t have the surgery. Living my life was unacceptable, we therefore, still extremely weary, agreed to go to Germany. Long story-short, I had only a three week notice. I had forgotten that things happen fast when you’re dealing with Mark. He mentioned in passing, again with no pressure and almost hesitantly, that another aspect of his business was accompanying clients to Germany for support, knowledge and when necessary, even intervention. After discussing it with my husband, we jumped at the opportunity, both of us welcoming the prospect of having someone else in charge. Now though that might be a bad choice of words, that’s how we felt. We still made all our own decisions, but Mark walked the walk and talked the talk. He’d been there, done that, many times over.

I suppose in retrospect, I should have been grateful with so little time because planning a trip abroad, for whatever reason, is time consuming. Planning air travel and hotels, as well as making sure things are covered at home enveloped me and though constantly aware of my imminent surgery, it was kept on the back burner of my mind. Emails to Germany for reservations, even if immediately responded to, took two days each. As three weeks evaporated into two, I became panicked. Enter Mark again, taking over this process for me and within days, had our reservations.

Though each making our own airline arrangements, we flew out on the same plane, meeting for the first time at the airport. Just knowing that he would be with us as soon as we landed in this foreign country was comforting. My husband was uncomfortable with the whole Germany thing as well as worried about me. I was, simply put, a nervous wreck. Mark prearranged for a taxi, whose driver would become our concierge, to take us to our hotel, a small but clean B&B within walking distance to the hospital. He arranged for my hospital check in the following morning and along with another client, took us to dinner that evening.

The view from Dale's room at Hotel Theresientor in Straubing

After a terrible night’s sleep, we met Mark for our short trip to the hospital. Once checked into my room, he spent most of the day with us while I went through my intestinal cleansing. He helped us set up our internet and phone connection. That evening he accompanied me to my pre-surgical physical, explaining questions I didn’t understand. Then, once bedded down for the night, he and my husband left for a late dinner.

The following morning he was able to hold my hand during my dreaded discogram. He was the only person who bothered informing my quite anxious husband that my surgery had been delayed by three hours. I understand that Mark also intervened on my behalf when that evening I was begging for pain relief. In all honesty, I don’t remember it.

I awoke only intermittently the following day after returning to my room from ICU at 9:00am. Unfortunately, having slept all day, I woke up that night and despite taking German versions of sleeping pills as often as I could, I was awake and anxious all night long. The minutes literally crawled by. Having been called back to the hospital for another patient, Mark came and held my hand, talking softly and trying to offer as much comfort as he could.

He stayed with us for seven days providing support, comfort and companionship. Though my back no longer ached and my incision caused almost no discomfort, my left leg was ‘dead’ and on fire. He gave me as much assurance as he could that it would improve, though not soon enough to please me. Before leaving, he made sure we were okay and able to fend for ourselves.

So maybe calling him an angel is overstepping it a bit, but you’ll never convince me of that. He not only led us down the path, but opened the door and invited us in. I’ll never forget what he did for us and will be forever grateful.

Moonrise at Oberalteich