Steve Kerr was back to his head coaching job with the Golden State Warriors on Friday night following several long months of rehabilitation due to complications from back surgery to address a ruptured disk. Team members, fans and the media all showered him with attention upon his triumphant return to the sidelines for a spectacular 122-110 win over the Indiana Pacers.
What happened during Kerr’s surgery?
Last July, Kerr underwent surgery after telling reporters he couldn’t participate in an upcoming charity golf tournament because he’d “thrown out” his lower back and was unable to walk more than 30 yards at a time. Though only 49, Kerr brushed off the injury as part of “getting old.” (Just a guess, but the 15 seasons he spent as an NBA player may also have had something to do with it.)
Unfortunately, a surgical complication would keep him away from the game far longer than he’d anticipated. During the operation, Kerr’s dura – the membrane surrounding the spinal cord – was accidentally nicked, allowing some of his cerebrospinal fluid to leak out over the following days. This leakage caused the pressure around his brain and spinal cord to decline, giving him severe headaches and fatigue that prompted a diagnosis of the problem and a second surgery to repair it in early September.
How common is this complication?
An incidental dural tear is a relatively rare occurrence in disk surgeries, but a known risk factor in all spine surgery. In fact, it’s extremely difficult not to nick the dural sac while performing a delicate spine procedure. However, when a tear is detected during the operation, the surgeon can repair it immediately, with a nominal impact on the patient’s healing process. But when, as in Kerr’s case, the tear is not seen during the surgery and does not heal itself quickly, the patient will experience “spinal headaches” caused by the change in pressure around the cord and brain.
Thankfully, Kerr’s tear was discovered fairly quickly after his initial surgery and he underwent a second operation right away to repair it. Yet he had no choice but to take a leave of absence while recovering from the effects of the leak and his second operation in two months.
Back to the court with some good advice
Returning to the bench after missing so much of the season, the winning second-year head coach was confident about his back as well as his team. And during a pre-game media session on Friday, he wasn’t so focused on the Pacers that he couldn’t offer some good advice to a reporter who he knew suffered back problems similar to his own. “How’s your back?” he asked the reporter. “Keep doing your rehab!”
Steve Kerr welcomed back by Warriors after long absence (01/23/2016). Retrieved from Yahoo! Sports: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/steve-kerr-welcomed-back-by-warriors-after-long-absence-050609238.html
Are Dural Tears and Cerebrospinal Fluid Leaks Something to Worry About? (12/29/2014). Retrieved from About.com: http://backandneck.about.com/od/backandnecksurgeryfaq/f/Cerebrospinal-Fluid-Leaks-Dural-Tear.htm
CSF leak(n.d.). Retrieved from MedlinePlus/U.S. National Library of Medicine: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001068.htm
Steve Kerr: No timetable for return after spinal fluid leak(10/12/2015). Retrieved from ESPN.com: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/13862374/steve-kerr-golden-state-warriors-says-spinal-fluid-leak-led-leave-absence