Not too long ago, Cleveland Indians first baseman David Cooper was facing a future far worse than one without baseball. While diving into first base during a game with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012, Cooper suffered a large herniated disc in his thoracic spine located deep inside his chest cavity. The injury nearly shattered his career and left him at risk of complete paralysis.
Cooper needed surgery, but was told that traditional methods for his injury held many risks and would not likely permit him to play professional baseball again. His best chance then became a neurosurgeon in Phoenix who had pioneered a minimally invasive procedure through the chest cavity.
Cooper underwent the four hour surgery last April by Curtis Dickman, MD, neurosurgeon. Dr. Dickman completely removed the herniated thoracic disc to decompress Cooper’s spinal cord, and inserted bone grafts, a titanium plate and two titanium screws through several very small incisions in the side of Cooper’s chest cavity.
“David is among 1 to 2 percent of individuals who suffer a herniated disc in his thoracic spine,” says Dr. Dickman. “The surgery we performed is only offered in few places throughout the world and it was David’s best hope of returning to baseball.”
Just three months following surgery, Cooper was setting his sights on a return to baseball. As a free agent, he signed a major league contract with the Cleveland Indians in December, something he was told may never happen.
“I’m so happy to be playing professional baseball again,” said Cooper. “Without this surgery I would be in excruciating pain and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to ever play baseball again.”
So far in Spring Training, Cooper earned a walk in his only plate appearance. It is fitting considering it was possible he would never walk again.