Hunter man goes to Germany for back operation

HAPPY DAYS: Jason Woodger and his wife Clarissa with daughter Billie, aged five, and son Jace, four, at home at Kurri Kurri after Mr Woodger's back surgery. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
HAPPY DAYS: Jason Woodger and his wife Clarissa with daughter Billie, aged five, and son Jace, four, at home at Kurri Kurri after Mr Woodger's back surgery. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

FOR five years, Hunter resident Jason Woodger lived with constant back pain from an injury on the job as a fencing contractor.

As he tells it, it was an innocuous enough start to a long trail of misery: walking across a building site, he trod unknowingly in a small hole, a “blind divot in the grass”.

“I dropped to my haunches, it was like an electric shock up my legs,” Mr Woodger said on Friday.

The pain did not go away, and Mr Woodger, who was then living at Kotara, found himself unable to work.

He was on what he and others call the compo merry-go-round, being sent from doctor to doctor as the insurance company kept insisting on more tests and more opinions.

While the situation that Mr Woodger was in is all too common, after five years of pain he did something very different to most people.

He sold his house to raise the $75,000 he needed to have a revolutionary operation in Germany.

Frustrated with a compo system that seemed to offer no definite cure, and putting himself on a long public hospital waiting list at the same time, Mr Woodger was worried that the spinal disc fusion that was apparently the best the NSW system could offer might only be a partial solution. So he flew in January to a hospital near Dusseldorf, where a team of surgeons took out the two discs in his spine that had substantial degenerative wear, and replaced them with two artificial discs.

He was up walking 22 hours after the operation, and although there has been a slight complication since – he tore some internal stitching, leading to blood pooling in his stomach – he says his back is free of pain for the first time since his accident.

In a sign of how much things are changing in the medical world, the German team posts videos of its operations on Youtube. (See The Newcastle Herald online.) We see the surgeons operating on Mr Woodgers through his stomach, extending his spine with a set of mechanical frames, and inserting his new discs using various long surgical instruments.

We then see him nine days after the operation, clearly happy with the way things have turned out.

One of Mr Woodger’s family contacted the Herald after a series of articles in January about the pressures facing thousands of people on workers compensation who were having their payments cut off under changes to the system made in 2012 when Barry O’Farrell was premier.

Under these changes, made to shore up the compo system’s finances after the global financial crisis, people whose whose “whole person impairment” was judged to be less than 20 per cent were having their payments cut off after five years.

Mr Woodger said his accident happened on March 6, 2013. He was diagnosed with degenerative damage to two discs – L4/5 and L5/S1 – and was in constant pain, having 17 steroid injections into his back and hips over three years.

“I’ve seen so many doctors over the years about this that I can’t count ‘em,” Mr Woodger said.”

They found the German team online, and after researching their claims and talking to Mr Woodger’s GP, they took the plunge, and sold their Kotara home in October. The operation was more than $50,000. Fares and other costs took the total to more than $75,000.

They are now living at Kurri Kurri, because “we couldn’t afford anything back where we were”.

“It’s ridiculous. I felt let down big time. You shouldn’t have to sell your house to get yourself back to work,” Mr Woodger said.

“It’s been five years, and without doing what I’ve done I’d still be sitting there on the waiting list. Animals get treated better than that.”

Mrs Woodger says she’s noticed a huge change in her husband since he received his new discs. He’s already looking through the paper for jobs, she said.

“It’s been really bad, because for all of the little one’s lives I’ve found it impossible to get down on the floor and play with them,” Mr Woodger said.

The only downside from Mr Woodger’s operation has been the internal bleed, which is still being assessed. 

He said John Hunter Hospital looked at him but did nothing because a specialist there raised concerns about insurance implications from his German surgery. Hunter New England Health says pooled blood can either be reabsorbed naturally or “drained via an ultrasound-assisted process”. It says its doctors recommended the “conservative, less invasive approach”.


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