Healthy Tahoe: A patient’s perspective on maintaining Tahoe lifestyle

Seth Frank takes a family “selfie.”

South Lake Tahoe resident Seth Frank describes himself as an adrenaline junkie. Like many, the 43-year-old embraces the Tahoe lifestyle year-round, enjoying snowboarding, mountain biking, golf and softball.

It’s not surprising maintaining this lifestyle has taken a physical toll on Seth’s body. After years of sending it off cliffs and navigating steep, mountainous terrain, Seth has had his share of pain and injuries. He had LCL surgery in 2011 and, as he says, has had medical issues come and go, including recurring treatment for a bulging disc.

In March of 2019, Seth left for the remote town of Cordova, Alaska. Every year, he works in the Chugach Mountain Range cooking for 50 heli-skiing clients and the 30 employees at Points North. He works nine weeks straight and is constantly on his feet.

But when Seth got off the plane, he couldn’t stand. He had numbness in his left leg and severe pain in the hip area. During the long flight, his bulging disk had shifted and was hitting a nerve in his spine. The pain was debilitating. Seth can smile about it now, but at the time it was very humbling to be a grown man crawling through the Cordova Municipal Airport. He spent seven days on his back before returning home to his own couch in South Lake Tahoe.

For several months, Seth tried non-surgical treatment options. While it helped with the pain, he knew it wasn’t a permanent solution.

Seth finally talked to orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist Dr. Zachary Child about surgery. He says that Dr. Child spoke in-depth about the process and the risks, but in a way that was easy to understand. Dr. Child was upfront, and also gave Seth the reassurance that he was in good hands.

When Seth went in for surgery in September 2019, he felt a sense of calm. While many people get anxious or stressed before surgery, Seth’s heart was beating at a resting rate. He says he felt ready and was glad the big day had arrived.

It was an outpatient surgery, and Seth was out of the hospital by 11 a.m. the same day. He says he was sore for the first few days, which is to be expected, and most of the pain subsided within a month.

“Before surgery, Seth couldn’t bend over past his knees and spent many hours on the couch,” says Dr. Zachary Child, Seth’s orthopedic surgeon. “After surgery and a few months of physical therapy, he could touch his toes and returned to his adventurous ways.”

Today, Seth says he is back to his active lifestyle and doing what he loves. He is happy to be mountain biking with his daughter again and is excited to coach his son’s baseball team this spring.

While Seth feels confident snowboarding again, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a few adventure plans on hold. Next winter, he hopes to return to Cordova. This time not as a cook, but as a heli-skiing client.

Dr. Zachary Child is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Tahoe Orthopedics & Sports Medicine physician group, practicing at Barton Health’s offices in South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Carson City. For a consultation, call 530-543-5554. Find more information about spine services and complementary therapies online at BartonOrthopedicsAndWellness.com.