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Getting Back on His Feet Again

By Julie Vargo, Editorial Contributor

For more than 40 years, Jim Mathis has made his living walking the stage and working the room.  

“I never use a podium,” says the professional public speaker and bestselling author, who has presented to corporate clients around the world. “I always talk while wandering around the room.”

That started to change in recent years. After hours spent on his feet making a presentation or roaming a conference, it became the norm for the 63-year-old Floridian’s legs to tingle and become numb. “It reached a point where after 10 to 15 minutes standing or walking, I literally had no feeling in my upper legs,” he recalls. “I could beat on my thighs and feel absolutely nothing.”

Mathis was forced to start hiding a chair behind his speaking podium and adopted an awkward, straight-legged gait he called his “Frankenstein walk” to adapt to the problem. When numbness became unbearable, occurring within minutes of standing and affecting his mobility, Mathis and his wife grew concerned. What was once a mild annoyance transformed into something more frightening — loss of control and fear of falling.

Dropping ‘Like a Puppet’

In addition to his job strolling the stage as a roving conversationalist, Mathis enjoys attending model railroad events in his spare time. At one of those conventions, he lost feeling in his legs and total control of his knees, falling hard onto the concrete floor.

“I dropped like a puppet that had its strings snipped,” he says. “I fell to the ground, but with no feeling. The numbness was so intense, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had broken my leg and foot in two places — clean breaks.”

Worse yet, he didn’t discover he had broken any bones until a routine trip to the orthopedic specialist two weeks later.

Looking for Answers

Determined to find the answers necessary to get his life back on track, Mathis connected with Dr. Virgilio Matheus, a board-certified neurosurgeon at Orlando Health Neuroscience and Rehabilitation Institute Neurosurgery Group.

“Dr. Matheus was a true godsend,” says Mathis, a former ordained Baptist minister. “He sent me to get an MRI, which showed I had spinal degeneration — lumbar scoliosis and spinal stenosis. After asking me a few questions, he told me he could fix the situation with a minor surgery.”

Within weeks, Dr. Matheus performed a neuro-spine surgery on Mathis using the ExcelsiusGPS™ Robotic Navigation system. The system features image-guided navigation like a car’s GPS, combined with a robotic arm, for precise planning and placement of surgical implants in minimally invasive surgeries like Mathis’ or conventional open-spine surgery. For patients, the result is improved safety, less time in the operating room and less time under general anesthesia. Recovery also is much quicker.

Doing His Part

“When Dr. Matheus came into the room after the surgery, he told me he had done his part — and now it was up to me to do mine,” says Mathis. He immediately began physical and occupational therapy at the hospital and continued it after going home.

Following his surgery and completion of an aggressive rehabilitation program, Mathis was feeling better. Within just a few months, he was leading conferences with confidence, hanging around with other model train enthusiasts and spending quality time on the move with his family. 

“I have no pain, no tingling and no numbness,” he says. “In fact, I stood at the 68th Annual Model Train Show and Sale for four hours with absolutely no issue.”

A man of faith, Mathis credits God and Orlando Health for his rapid return to his action-packed life. “I can’t say enough nice things about Dr. Matheus, the nurses and physical therapists at Orlando Health,” he says. “The whole team, everybody there, they helped put me back on my feet again.”

To learn more about Orlando Health’s neuroscience care, visit OrlandoHealth.com/Neuro.