Chris Jackson slumped when he walked and had to force himself to stand straight for group photos. The bend in his back was so severe that colleagues secretly referred to him as Question Mark.
The cause was a herniated disc in his lower back. As an attorney, presenting in the courtroom was extremely challenging. He often propped himself up against the stand for comfort and to project confidently. His work life was miserable, and the same could be said about his time beyond the judicial realm.
“I was hunched over and my posture was bad. I probably appeared about 5 inches shorter than I truly was,” said Jackson, who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall. “On top of that, there was consistent, 24/7 sciatic pain going down my leg all the way to my foot. It wasn’t fun.”
After several unsuccessful pain management sessions, Jackson was referred to UF Health Neurosurgery Jacksonville, where neurosurgeon Kourosh Tavanaiepour, DO, removed the herniated disc. The procedure left just a small scar on Jackson’s lower back, while allowing him to gradually regain the strength and confidence to be the standout attorney, family man and friend people have known for years.
An attorney’s challenges
Jackson is an assistant state attorney for Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Jacksonville and the rest of Duval County, along with neighboring Clay and Nassau counties. Jackson, who’s been working there since 2016, began in county court, transitioned to juvenile cases and recently shifted over to adult felonies. Though the cases often pile up, he says it’s the best job he’s ever had.
“I love it. I feel good about what I do. It’s about justice and doing the right thing,” he said. “When you’re dealing with juvenile offenders, it’s about rehabilitation. But with adult offenders, it’s mostly about punishment.”
Jackson was getting into a nice groove and moving cases along when the pain in his back continued to intensify. In 2017, he began noticing sciatic symptoms down his leg. The pain forced him to stop exercising, as he was simply “getting through the days.”
“I didn’t enjoy my job. I was irritable and didn’t want to be around people. As a new father, I didn’t enjoy the interactions with my son because I was so miserable,” said Jackson, who was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease six years prior. “I slept in a recliner for three months because it was too painful for me to be on my back.”
Jackson says a car accident in August 2017 accelerated his need for help. Days after the collision, he noticed sharp pains in his neck and back. He also began having spasms. “Things were getting worse and I knew I needed to do something,” he said.
Coming to UF Health
Through initial consultations, Jackson came to appreciate the conservative approach Tavanaiepour took toward spine treatment. Tavanaiepour wanted Jackson to first try chiropractic treatment and massage therapy, and only choose surgery as a last resort.
“Dr. Tavanaiepour cares about his patients,” Jackson said. “He’s easy to talk to. He truly listens and is extremely confident in his abilities — which is what you want in a neurosurgeon.”
Jackson also took comfort in the fact Tavanaiepour and other University of Florida physicians have set salaries and aren’t paid based on how many procedures they perform. On the other hand, Tavanaiepour told Jackson surgeons at private practices may be more inclined to quickly steer a patient toward surgery.
“That point further reassured me that I was at the right place,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s recovery and reemergence
One of Jackson’s spinal discs was wrapped around a nerve, which was causing the leg pain. After the operation to remove the disc, the only pain Jackson felt was at the incision site — and that sensation eventually subsided.
Jackson now stands tall again and projects confidently during court proceeding. He feels better and is back to smiling and joking with colleagues.
Kristen Leisch, another assistant state attorney who worked a few offices down from Jackson, said it was obvious he was in great pain and discomfort before the surgery.
“Chris has always been a happy-go-lucky type of person, so it was tough seeing him depressed. We called him Question Mark because he walked around with his back hunched over,” Leisch said. “When one person is down or depressed, it makes a difference in the way our team functions. Having Chris back to normal has been really special.”
As Jackson continues to rehabilitate and regain strength, he speaks of the appreciation for Tavanaiepour and the other providers at UF Health Jacksonville who helped him during his struggles and recovery.
“Being a neurosurgery patient at UF Health has been one of the best medical experiences of my life,” Jackson said. “The quality is world-class. More people should know about them.”