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Paralympic Champion Turns to University of Utah Health for Pain Relief

Aug 01, 2013

At a young age, Muffy Davis was a promising athlete who was on the road to her first Winter Olympic games when her hopes were dashed in a near-fatal ski accident that left her paralyzed from the mid-chest down. Through a difficult recovery, Davis chose to "thrive rather than survive," and learned to perform all her daily routines in her wheel chair. With sheer determination, desire, and her positive attitude, Davis achieved not only athletic glory, but graduated from Stanford University, married, and became a mother. She medaled in skiing in the 1998 Nagano Paralympic Games, as well as the 2002 Salt Lake Games before she began to pursue cycling.

In the early summer months of 2011, yet another physical setback took place— awful pain through the left arm that worried her as she not only trained for the London Paralympic Games, but as she fulfilled her daily tasks as a speaker and a mother. "Being paralyzed, the use of my arms means everything to me," Davis, says. "Losing function in my arms not only was devastating to think about because of athletics, but because of my lifestyle."

Davis turned to the University of Utah's Orthopaedic Center and Stuart Willick, MD, a sports medicine specialist. Willick had experience with athletes like Davis, having worked with numerous organizations such as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, US Speedskating, and the International Olympic and Paralympic medical committees. They began conservatively, using physical therapy and steroid injections to relieve the pain which allowed Davis to compete in the World Championships where she earned a silver medal in cycling. Although she succeeded, competing made her injury more obvious. "It was then I realized that I was injured past competition," Davis said. Excruciating pain, numbness, and loss of function were now more prevalent than ever. Her road to finding a cure was not yet over.

Revisiting University of Utah Health, Davis had additional testing. An MRI revealed a disc bulging in her neck, which caused nerve damage to her entire left arm. "Dr. Willick gave me hope because he understood how important competition is to me," Davis says. "He wanted a solution as desperately as I did." When it became apparent other treatments wouldn't adequately address the issue, Willick and Davis agreed neck surgery would be her best hope, though it could force her to forfeit her chances for competition in the London Paralympic games the following summer.

Willick recommended Brandon Lawrence, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at U of U Health. Lawrence fused discs C5 and C6, hoping this would once and for all cure the pain in her arm. The surgery went remarkably well, and Davis states, "I am stronger and faster than ever, I feel better than I ever have, and I am immensely thankful for the care provided by my fabulous surgeon, and Dr. Willick."

Remarkably, just ten months after surgery, Davis brought home three Gold Medals from the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

She attributes her recovery and success to Willick and Lawrence and recalls her experiences in the hospital from months before, "I was on a first name basis with those in the hospital, and it became my home away from home." After feeling like all was lost, Davis graciously thanks those who helped her recover and get back out on the road. "Yes, I'm an athlete, but firstly I'm a mother, and I'm thankful every day for the care I received to secure those privileges."