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Right time, right place, right technology

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Three weeks ago today, Bob Nelson was in the hospital in excruciating pain from a compression fracture of a vertebra in his spine.

For a man who just celebrated his 90th birthday, this was not a good place to be.

But fortunately for Nelson, a cascade of long-shot coincidences led to fast and effective treatment and today he is back home, pain free and looking forward to returning to work as president of Bane-Nelson Contractors.

The chain of events that took Nelson from incapacitated to fully functional involved family, friends and co-workers all being in the right place at the right time. In a conversation in Nelson’s Kenosha living room last week, those involved shared the parts they played in his recovery journey.

The story begins on Sunday, Oct. 7, when Bob tries to rise from a chair and suddenly experiences a sharp pain in his back.

“He was in a lot of pain and I gave him four Tylenol tablets every four hours,” said his wife of 68 years, Rose Nelson. “But I didn’t want to wake him up so I didn’t give him any in the middle of the night.”

When Bob woke at 6 a.m. Monday he was in terrible pain and told Rose to call 911.

Tests at the emergency department at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, St. Catherine’s Medical Center, revealed that Bob had a compression fracture of the L-1 vertebra in his spine.

“I said, ‘We should really get a doctor here who can fix his back,’ and I didn’t even know if they had a doctor,” Rose said. Bob was admitted to the hospital and treatment options were considered.

That was Monday.

On Tuesday, Larry Nelson, Bob and Rose’s son, went to work at Bane-Nelson, where he is executive vice president.

There he shared the news of Bob’s condition with fellow co-workers, including Tom Frost, the company’s financial controller. “I told him Dad had a compression break and was in the hospital,” Larry said.

Frost said he recalls saying, “‘Oh, I’m glad they found out what it is so now maybe we can move onto some sort of cure.’”

Shortly after that, Frost left work to attend a lunchtime meeting of the Rotary Club International at the Kemper Center. Said Frost, “I saw that the program was going to feature Dr. Curry, an interventional radiologist. I’m thinking radiology, X-rays, this is going to be (no offense to you, Dr. Curry), a ‘thumb-twiddler.’”

Frost’s attention went on high alert, however, when Curry showed a model of the cross section of a spine and told the audience, “We also do these sorts of things: if somebody has a compression fracture in their spine we can take care of that.”

“I’m thinking, I don’t know exactly what Bob’s fracture is, but it sounds like what Larry just told me his dad had an hour or so before this meeting started,” recalled Frost. Even better, Frost said, was hearing the doctor describe how compression fractures could be “fixed almost immediately on the spot.”

After the meeting, Frost spoke with Curry to explain Bob’s situation. He also told Curry he would be passing his information to Bob’s family “so they could talk to him as soon as humanly possible.”

“I felt it was almost like divine intervention,” Frost said. “I told the doctor, ‘This is divine intervention that you’re here today.’”

Said Larry: “So Tom hands me (Dr. Curry’s information), and sure enough it’s exactly what we need done.”

“What’s really interesting,” continued Larry, “is that Monday when we were in the emergency room one of the nurses mentioned something about an interventional radiologist and I said I’d never heard about them before. So when Tom handed me this, I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ I called my mom and said, ‘There you go!’”

Rose got in touch with the family’s primary care physician, who in turn connected the family to Curry.

Two days later, on Thursday, Curry performed a vertebroplasty on Bob’s broken vertebra and by Monday he was up and out of the hospital.

Bob has nothing but praise for Curry and the hospital as a whole.

“Let me tell you something,” said Bob. “All the while, I was skeptical and said, ‘I can’t stand any more pain,’ but Dr. Curry kept calming me down saying, ‘Don’t worry I’ll take care of it!’ He would comfort me.” Turning to Curry, he said, “Thank you.”

All involved agreed that luck brought Curry and Nelson together. “I might not have grabbed the paperwork at the meeting, had I not known Bob had a compression fracture. But I knew it before the meeting and as soon as he talked about it, I thought, ‘there it is!’” Frost said.

Curry said he, too, is impressed with the way things lined up. “You can’t make up a story like this; truth is stranger than fiction,” he said. “This is so good; it’s nice when things happen like they’re supposed to.”


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Related to this story

Dr. David Curry is a “minimally invasive image-guided proceduralist,” also known as a physician who practices interventional radiology.

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