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News  ›  Neurosciences

From dashed hopes to strong finish

February 9, 2017

David Wcislo took up marathon running in his early 50s as a way to share time with his twin brother, Paul, and his family.

The hobby took off for the Wcislo brothers, as they spent countless weekends during the past 20 years traveling the country and running in marathons. Before they knew it, Wcislo and his brother were close to joining the elite 50 States Marathon Club.

But, as fate would have it, Wcislo ran into a crippling roadblock with just one state marathon – Hawaii – left on his list. While his brother cracked the 50-state club, Wcislo had to watch from the sidelines with an impinged peripheral nerve in his foot.

“I went gimp with a pinched nerve in October 2014,” Wcislo recalls. “I could hardly walk, let alone run a marathon.”

When months of countless MRIs, meetings with podiatrists and orthopedic doctors, and online research yielded little success, Wcislo turned to NCH and neurosurgeon Shaun O’Leary, M.D., Ph.D.

“I knew he was the right doctor,” Wcislo says. “He came into my appointment and said ‘So, you want to run in Hawaii?’ It was time for me to return to running.”

In examining Wcislo, Dr. O’Leary determined the nerve that lifted Wcislo’s foot was entrapped around his knee, which caused interference with the signal between his brain and his foot. The result: Wcislo could not lift his foot off the ground.

Two weeks after his the initial appointment, O’Leary performed outpatient peripheral nerve surgery on Wcislo, who went home the same day to recover.

“He is very driven and was short just one state on his goal of running in all 50,” Dr. O’Leary says. “We were able to help him accomplish that goal.”

After his surgery in late 2015, Wcislo began training with his running club in hopes of returning to the marathon circuit. After a few months, he built enough endurance to run a half-marathon in Fargo, N.D. After another half-marathon in the summer, Wcislo knew he was ready to push himself for a full 26.2-mile run.

The last state on his list – Hawaii – featured the Maui Oceanfront Marathon in January. The Wcislo brothers and their sister, Alice, traveled to the South Pacific for the run that would put Dave in the 50 States Club.

“It was just 16 months after the surgery, and I wound up finishing first in my age bracket,” Wcislo says. “The camaraderie was the best part. We talked the entire race and we joked that I should be the poster boy for the marathon.”

Wcislo’s accomplishment doesn’t surprise Dr. O’Leary. “I equate him to being a Ferrari that needed a little repair work,” he says. “After surgery, he returned to his previous form and exceeded expectations.”

For Wcislo, the surgery was his ticket to the 50 States Club, but it also preserved his quality of life.

“I could have lived the rest of my life limping around, but I am glad I don’t have to,” he says. “For that, I am grateful.”