From Fall to First Place: How Surgery Helped a Triathlete Recover from Traumatic Injury

“Dr. McConnell gave me my life back. He really did.”

At 47, Jeff Miller was in the best shape of his life, competing in 10 triathlons a year. But in January 2015, when he slipped and fell on ice at work, he immediately knew something was very wrong.

“I worked for 20 years as the finance manager at a car dealership, helping to clear the snow from cars every winter,” Miller says. “One fall changed everything.”

A Painful Time

Miller ruptured two disks in his lower back, resulting in severe back and leg pain. After a year of seeing pain management doctors, Miller’s pain worsened until he could no longer work. Exercise was a thing of Miller’s past.

“It was tough to see my body go downhill,” Miller says. “This injury didn’t just take a physical toll. It took an emotional toll as well.” 

Miller decided to seek out Jeffrey McConnell, MD, spinal surgeon with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Allentown.

A Beacon of Hope

After diagnostic testing, McConnell determined that two lower lumbar disks were causing Miller’s pain and needed to be fixed.

“Pain had beaten him down, and the whole thing was complicated because this injury happened at work,” McConnell says. “We also had to consider the active lifestyle that Jeff hoped to regain. There was a lot to consider.”

Fusing both of the painful disks would leave Miller’s lower back stiff and limit his mobility. McConnell suggested an alternative plan.

“We did a hybrid surgery for Jeff. We fused the bottom disk, but we completely replaced the other injured disk so that it could act as a transition between the fused disk and the rest of his spine,” McConnell says. “This way, Jeff would maintain a healthy range of mobility.”

Grabbing the Gold

Surgery took place in July 2017 at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest. Miller underwent physical therapy for a year after surgery, and was back swimming within four months of surgery. In August 2018, Miller entered his first triathlon post-injury. He won first place.

“I was so excited to tell Dr. McConnell about my success,” says Miller, who traveled an hour from his home in Sugarloaf, Pa., for appointments at the new Musculoskeletal Center–Hausman Road campus. “Dr. McConnell gave me my life back. He really did.”

Related Conditions: Back and Neck Pain, Herniated Disk