An Underdog Story: One Accident, 28 Surgeries, and the Will to Keep Fighting

After a car accident left him with devastating back injuries, Dave Robinson endures more than two dozen surgeries but still finds the strength to reach out to others in pain.

 At just 34 years old, Dave Robinson already has undergone 28 surgeries - and he’s not done yet.  The Berlin, Connecticut resident is facing even more operations, but he’s up for the challenge. His goal is to put his debilitating back pain in the rearview mirror forever.

Dave Robinson had 28 back surgeries and countingDespite 28 surgeries and counting, Dave Robinson keeps on keeping on.

Dave belongs to some online support groups for chronic pain through Reddit, and others in the group cheer him on as he goes through operation after operation.

“I want to ask you to share with us how you find the motivation and mental strength to keep going,” wrote one. “You are someone the rest of us can look up to as far as the will to keep fighting is concerned. “

Another wrote, “Man, you are an inspiration. I love your positivity. It gets dark sometimes and nice to see these posts.” Wrote another, “I'm rooting for you, man. Keep on keepin’ on!”

History Under the Knife

Dave has been “keeping on” for most of his life. After getting tubes in his ears due to ear infections, he had a tonsillectomy at age 8 that had to be repeated when his tonsils actually grew back (which is very rare). As a teenager, he was extremely overweight, he recalls. “I got my slow metabolism from my mom’s side,” he explains. “At age 16, I was 450 pounds. I had my first knee surgery at age 13.”

Over the next 10 years, because his weight was causing him knee problems, he would have a dozen surgeries on his knees to repair his meniscus. Unfortunately, Dave was considered too young to have a knee replacement, so he just kept going through the pain. Dave was able to graduate from high school on time because he was determined to stay in school. “Throughout all my surgeries, I never took time off,” he says. “I would go to class in a wheelchair and they would give me a tray table to write on. It was hard for me to learn and socialize but I did it. I am thankful for every single day.”

After his 2005 high school graduation, Dave decided to move to Florida to attend a trade school to learn motorcycle repair. He did, while also losing more than 200 pounds, but a tanking economy and dim job prospects led him back to Connecticut in 2008.

At the age of 16, Dave had taken a job at Sliders Grill & Bar, a pair of casual restaurants in Connecticut (Sliders would eventually expand to five locations) . After his Sunshine State stint he slowly worked his way up the org chart. Dave was Sliders’ director of food operations, managing all five restaurants. It was a busy position with a lot of responsibility, including supervising many staff members and even pitching in by cooking when the need arose.

 “I was one of their youngest managers of all time,” he recalls. “To be 21 or 22 and be a manager of a restaurant like that was a big deal.”

He was even thinking about buying his own house, until a red light on a Sunday morning changed everything.

Accident and Spine Injury

On an October Sunday in 2014, in Berlin, CT, less than three miles from his home, Dave’s truck, a Dodge Ram 1500, was stopped as he waited with his turn signal on. He was about to turn into the Sliders parking lot. It was a football Sunday, and Dave was about to make his rounds to the Sliders locations to make sure they had enough supplies and manpower for the busy day ahead of them. 

Then, a young driver in a Honda Accord rear-ended him. Though Dave’s vehicle was much larger, the Accord was traveling at 65mph, Dave recalls. The impact of the crash propelled Dave’s Dodge Ram 60 feet forward. 
“The car accident messed up my spine,” Dave says. “My diagnosis was multiple herniations of multiple discs. The accident basically gave me scoliosis. Two discs were so compressed they were sitting on my sciatic nerve. I have permanent nerve damage.”

The Long Road to Recovery

And thus began a series of operations to try to repair his badly injured spine. His doctor, Joseph Aferzon, MD, has performed all the surgeries at various hospitals in Connecticut. Dave has had two full 360 fusions to place steel plates that replace actual vertebrae in his back. He also has had a disc replacement in which a special alloy disc replaces the actual disc in his back.  

“It is on its own ball and hinge so it has its own movement,” Dave explains. “This procedure has a high success rate in Europe and my doctor recently started to do it. I was one of the first to get it.”

After each of his surgeries, Dave has relied on his parents for assistance. They help him as he slowly learns once more how to get out of bed, walk around, sit at a table. It’s important that he move regularly so that he doesn’t develop blood clots, he says.

Each time, as he begins to recover from a surgery, he gets physical therapy at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, Connecticut. “It has been a team effort with Dr. Aferzon and his staff doing the surgeries and then the wonderful physical therapists getting me back on my feet,” Dave says.

Keep on Keeping On

On top of everything else, Dave was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). “The doctors think it is because of the number of surgeries I have had and the many different medications they have put me on throughout my entire life,” he says. “All the anesthesia and medications have given me problems with my stomach.” 

He is on a lot of medications, including hydromorphone as needed for pain and diazepam and clonzanapan for nerve and muscle issues. “I try not to take anything unless things are bad,” Dave says. “I just bite down, put on a smile and just deal with the pain naturally, until it gets too bad.”

Through it all, Dave maintains his positive attitude. He is determined to get better, and hopes one day to return to work. He says that his mom helps keep him motivated, and that he enjoys watching anime on TV.

“When I watch anime, the underdog does everything he can when people say they aren’t special or powerful,” Dave says. “They almost kill themselves training, but then the underdog becomes the strongest person mentally and physically, and just rules.”

Dave doesn’t know at this point how many more surgeries he will need. “It is like going up a river without a paddle, and even though you have the best people in the world trying to help you, it is just so hard sometimes,’ he says. “But I will never give up because if you do, that is the end. I love proving people wrong.”

Updated on: 05/04/21
Continue Reading
My Sciatica Story: Learning to Cope with Low Back Pain
Continue Reading:

My Sciatica Story: Learning to Cope with Low Back Pain

Writer Rosemary Black reflects on living and dealing with sciatica and what she’s learned from chronic pain.
Read More