Kevin Bonato - St. Charles, IL
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Kevin Bonato - St. Charles, IL

Kevin Bonato - St. Charles, IL

My name is Kevin Bonato, I will be 40 yrs. old on Oct. 17, 2007. I ran the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon on Oct. 22, 2006. I've been a runner since the age of about 7 or 8 yrs. old (About 32 yrs.). While that may not be much of a story, what follows I've been told is quite a story:

I've had bad neck pain for 25 yrs, 24 hours a day, and while moving into our new house in February, 2004, my hands and fingers started burning, and my arms got very weak. My first visit to a new doctor in our new town seemed to go ok, X-Rays and all. However, the next morning the doctor (Dr. Jones) called and left a message on our answering machine saying she wanted to admit me to the hospital right away. The way I understood it, when you're admitted to the hospital, you can get in for an M.R.I. much quicker. This was the first clue that something may be very seriously wrong.

After being admitted, and after the M.R.I. that evening, we discovered that the damage in my neck was severe. I ended up spending the night in the hospital after getting an injection directly into the damaged area in my neck in hopes that it might relieve some of the pain. No such luck though, the injection did nothing. I was referred to a doctor in Chicago, his name is Dr. Christopher DeWald, at Rush Medical Center. His office, Orthopaedics & Scoliosis, made room to see me the next day. After that office visit, and also an office visit to the Neurologist (Dr. Byrne), we scheduled surgery for
the upcoming Monday, 2/16/04. Both doctors made it painfully clear that this surgery was very serious, and that there were no guarantees. They could fix the damage as best they could, but the burning, weakness and pain may never go away. I really appreciated their honesty.

On Sunday 2/15/04, I went for what I hoped wouldn't be my last run. I went much further than I had originally planned. I was afraid to stop running, part of me hoped that if I only kept running I could run away from all that was happening. Ending that run was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. The only thing that really stayed with me, through all of the millions of things that went through my mind while running was this: "NEVER GIVE UP!!!!" I'll never forget sitting on our front porch after my run, crying and praying that that wasn't the last run for the rest of my life.

My surgery was only supposed to take 3 - 5 hours. I was actually in surgery for over 11 1/2 hours. Obviously the damage was much worse than any X-Ray or M.R.I. could ever show. I had an entire vertebra and 5 disks removed through the front of my neck, then a steel cage inserted to replace the vertebra that was removed, also a steel plate and 7 screws inserted in the front of my neck to complete the surgery. At that point I landed in I.C.U. for the next day and a half or so. But there's more.

Very late the day after my surgery, I was moved from I.C.U. to a regular / normal room. In the early morning hours, I woke up with a crushing feeling in my neck and throat, and it was getting really hard to breath. Next thing I knew I was being rushed down to surgery. I couldn't breathe. My wife, Valerie, was there by my side (as she was the entire time I was in the hospital). The last thing I told my wife before I passed out from lack of oxygen was this: "NEVER GIVE UP!!!"

About 4 or 5 hours later I woke up to the doctor patting me on the shoulder and telling me that we had hit a little speed bump. At that point I realized my hands were tied down. Once the doctor saw that I was trying to move my arms he explained that my hands and arms were restrained so that I wouldn't try to pull the ventilator out. I WAS ON A VENTILATOR!!!!!!! Needless to say, that's not how I expected to wake up. I was on the ventilator for the next day or so. It seemed like forever. Finally the ventilator was removed, and a little while later I was moved once again out of I.C.U. and back to a regular room.

I came home on 2/23/04. Everything seemed to go ok for the first couple days but on the second night things worsened. I had just gotten ready for bed, when I was suddenly freezing and not feeling very well at all. I called down the hall to my wife and said that I needed help. Keep this in
mind...I NEVER SAY I NEED HELP. She knew this and immediately knew something was wrong. She took my temperature and it was over 103 degrees. She called the doctor, and just during that time on the phone with the doctor my fever went flying past 104 degrees. I ended up having an ambulance take me to the emergency room where it was discovered that not only did I have a high fever, but I was also very very dehydrated.

After talking to the doctor the next morning, it was decided that I should come back to Rush Medical Center for more X-Rays. It turned out that the 7th screw had backed halfway out of the
steel plate. The reason was the front of the vertebra it was screwed into had disintegrated. Time for more surgery. A couple more hours to clean up the mess in the front of my neck and remove the 7th screw, and even more time to flip me over and go in through the back of my neck to insert 3 rods and 10 screws to go along with all the other stuff in the front of my neck.

Waking up after that...WOW.  I didn't think that it was possible to feel that much pain. Later, the doctor offered to put me into a "Halo Brace" (the thing that screws into your skull). I was in so much pain that I said yes even though I had initially told him to do anything as long as I don't end up in a Halo Brace.

March 1, 2004, home at last. It didn't take me long to get restless. I was told that I could start out with short, maybe 1/2 hour walks. I'd go for 1 - 3 hour walks instead. Before long, there I was standing on our kitchen counters using a drill to hang blinds while in a Halo Brace (I hope my doctor doesn't read this). Then I was painting the kitchen and family room. After hounding and pestering my doctor for more to do, I was allowed to start Physical Therapy. Little did the doctor know that that was like telling a race car driver that the road he or she is driving on has no speed limit!!! In a matter of weeks I was on my own lifting weights, using the treadmills and the stepmills for workouts. I was still in the Halo Brace though. You should have seen the looks on peoples faces at the Health and Wellness Center seeing someone in a Halo Brace kicking butt and lifting weights and all. This last part took me from March through June 2004.

Finally four months after my first surgery, which would place us at the end of June 2004, I offically got the ok from the doctor to take my first post-surgery run. Now, granted this was many months before anyone, including the doctor, ever thought I'd be running, but run I did. I didn't make it very far. I lost about 30 - 40 lbs after all the surgeries, and still didn't have my strength back yet. But I was running. I kept on plugging along. It took over a year, but I did get my strength and running base back. I don't think I'll ever run as fast as I did even 5 years ago, but that's ok, I STILL GET TO RUN!!

Since then, I've gotten myself Certified by A.F.A.A. for Group Fitness Instruction, Madd Dog Athletics (Johnny G.) Spinning Certified, Turbokick Certified, and obviously in order to teach, C.P.R. Certified. I also Teach Fitness Classes at the same place I had Physical Therapy just over 2 years
ago. Talk about coming full circle.

Some people tell me that my recovery is totally amazing. Maybe so. But everything still isn't perfect. When the weather changes my neck and all the hardware get really sore. When I had the softball size blood clot and passed out, we really don't know how long I was without oxygen. I don't
really want to know either. I don't want to know if I had a stroke or have even a little brain damage. I think I already know the answer to that question. I still have trouble controlling a pen or pencil to write. Thank goodness for e-mail or you'd never be able to read this story. I can't even read my own writing. And the most frustrating part is I don't remember things very well anymore. I used to remember everything before my surgery and blood clot. Now, if I don't save this e-mail, or leave myself a note, I may not remember sending this running story tomorrow.

It's very hard and exhausting having to focus so completely just to do the things most everyone else just takes for granted. It's even more exhausting having to try so hard so that other people (even friends) don't notice that I'm not who I was before. I guess that's one good thing about moving to a new area, nobody here knew me before we moved here. So they don't notice any change. I've been told by a number of people close to me, people that have known me since before my surgery, that they think things are just not connected in my head anymore. When they've told me, it wasn't meant to be mean. I know that. I feel bad for my wife Valerie, she is such an angel.
We'll be talking and she'll stop me to tell me that I've repeated myself 7, 8, 9 or more times. Yet I have no clue that I've repeated myself at all. I can't deny that I'm not who I was before all of this neck surgery stuff, and never will be. This is what I have to live with now. At times it's a very
bitter pill to swallow. It's hard going through the day not knowing what parts I'll remember, and what parts I won't.

Most of the people that know me at Delnor Health & Wellness Center, and the other place where I teach, Vaughn Athletic Center, know that I've had neck surgery, but don't know the extent. If you didn't know me, you'd think I was perfectly healthy, nothing wrong. Unless, you got close enough to see the scars. Only a few people other than my wife know what I've been battling for the last couple of years. I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag.

The one thing I do remember is what has always kept me going: NEVER GIVE UP!!!!! I'm not giving up, and I never will. The October 22, 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon was a reward / present I gave myself for not giving up. I've raced the Chicago Marathon many times (first time was either 1982 or 1983) over the years. But it wasn't about was about the joy of still being able to do what I love to do...RUN!

So how'd I do in Chicago? Well, I did awesome, slow, but awesome! Let me give you some details...

I was fit and trained enough to probably run 3:45 - 3:50. But, this time the race wasn't about time. I ended up finishing in, I think it was 5:13. Over the second half of the race I stopped to listen to just about every band. I also stopped and chatted with friends that were out along the coarse. I had sooooooooo much fun not caring about my finishing time.

I know most people are happy to get to the last turn (the final straightaway) in a marathon. I wasn't. I was just about in tears when I got to the last turn towards the finish. I didn't want it to end. I knew that this would probably be my last marathon (my neck with all its hardware, and everything I've been through, probably won't let me train for another.). Which made having this much fun at Chicago 2006 that much more important. I will never, and I mean NEVER, forget Chicago 2006.

The shoes I wore for the race were New Balance 825's (The Marathon Special Edition). Once they are retired I will keep them forever! I've run many many marathons during my 30 + years of running, but I've never had a pair of shoes that were so totally comfortable for an entire marathon.

Next on my running horizon...I'd do the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii if I could. I've wanted to do the Ironman Hawaii for over 20 yrs now. But the chances of me getting in are all but zero, I'm not a celebrity. Reality says that I will be working on gettting faster times for 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon courses over the next year.

I teach / lead running classes at Delnor Health and Wellness Center in St. Charles Illinois twice a week. I've gotten (and still get) so much satisfaction in seeing the runners / joggers & walkers improving over the weeks and months.

Health and Fitness doesn't happen overnight. It takes hard work. For all the people out there working hard when they could be sleeping, YOU'RE AWESOME!!!!

Thank you so much for letting me tell my story. I've been told by so many people that know me and what I've been through that my story is incredible. I've never thought so. I've always just done what I could. Being picked to share my story through Road Runner Sports really touches me way deep down in my heart.

I hope my story inspires others with Spinal Stenosis to not give up and just live a life of sitting on a couch. I'd love to inspire others with my story, in person, or in print.

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