By Bill Finley
Though he termed his back surgery performed Thursday a success, Hall of Fame driver Ron Pierce is far from a certainty to return to the sulky. He told HRU that his doctors, citing the dangers of any potential future spills, have advised him to retire, but he said that’s not a decision he is ready to make just yet.
Sidelined by back and neck problems, Pierce has not driven since March 15. His neck problems were cleared up by an earlier surgery, but his back has remained an issue.
“You wouldn’t believe how tough it is to recover from back or neck surgery,” he said. “Everything connects to those spots, every nerve ending in your body. When they operate on you back there, believe me, your body will definitely be mad at you. I’ve never been in as much pain as I’ve been in Thursday into Friday. I couldn’t sleep at all and there was no position I could get in that made me comfortable.
“I know he did a lot of work back there, Dr. Schaeffer from New Jersey Spine and Orthopedics, but I can tell now if my back is anything like my neck, I’m going to be so happy. My neck was hurting me badly, but after he operated on my neck he found pinched nerves and a couple of fractures. He put in some new disks between the vertebrae and he filed everything down nice and smooth and then he injected me with my own plasma from my spine. It was a miracle. But my neck feels so good now. If my back comes around 50% as good as my neck did, it’s going to be wonderful.”
While confident that his quality of life will improve due to the latest surgery, Pierce is facing a serious dilemma about the rest of his career. As good as he might feel in the months ahead, he has to decide if he wants to take the risks that would be a part of a comeback.
“It’s up in the air,” he said. “I really don’t think I should (drive again) because the doctor advised me not to. The judges, they might not let me race. So that’s going against me, and the second thing going against me is that the reason the doctor doesn’t want me racing is that if you take a fall, and those disks that they put in my neck pop out from in between your vertebrae go in between your spinal column, you’re going to be a quadriplegic. You’re going to be paralyzed for life. So he said he doesn’t want me doing this. He says it’s too dangerous, so what am I going to do?
“My whole life, when a door would close another one would open and it was usually a better one. So far, no doors have been opening but I guess most everybody thinks I’m still coming back as a driver.
“If there’s a shot the next time you go on the track, you have a spill and the disks pop out of your neck and go down your vertebra, and you’re paralyzed for life, what would you do? I definitely want to walk away from the sport. I don’t want to be wheeled away. You’re going to be in a crash sooner or later, it’s just a question of time. It’s not a matter of if, but when. I have to do the smartest thing, that’s for sure.”
Though delighted with his latest surgeon, Pierce said he has not had good experiences with all of his doctors.
“I went down to Texas for minimally invasive back surgery in April to the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute.
They told me that if I paid them up front, they would pay me back as soon as they got the money back from the insurance company,” he said. “My insurance company paid them June 8th. I saw the canceled checks, so I knew they got paid and then they came up with all of these reasons why I couldn’t get paid, and it didn’t help at all, and it cost me around $80,000. They didn’t help me one bit.”