Pain Free and Flying High
A leading test pilot is back in the cockpit despite a career threatening spinal injury, thanks to expert treatment from a Blackpool private hospital, writes Kate Ford
When Commander Paul Stone suffered a second prolapsed disc in three years, he knew that, if surgery was his only option, it would probably end his flying career. This was devastating news for Paul who, after 20 years with the Royal Navy, had joined BAE Systems, first as chief test pilot and later as its director of flight operations.
Paul, 53, from Lytham St Annes, turned to Spire Fylde Coast Hospital in Blackpool for help and was seen by consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Paul Dunkow.
“That was in 2018, after my second prolapsed disc, and I was in tremendous pain. The injury had been building up over time, ever since my first prolapsed disc diagnosis in 2012,” says Paul.
“At times, the pain in my back was excruciating and I couldn’t work. It was also clear that, because the pain was gradually worsening, it would eventually affect my ability to operate as a pilot.”
During the consultation, Mr Dunkow established key information about Paul’s symptoms, his lifestyle and career. Taking a careful, considered approach, and following an MRI scan and x-rays, Mr Dunkow recommended a course of intensive sports physiotherapy, which would enable Paul to avoid surgery.
The treatment involved a programme of massage, joint manipulation, stretching and exercises with a sports physiotherapist designed to relieve the pressure on Paul’s spine, loosen tight muscles and ligaments, and strengthen core muscles.
The strategy was a success and, 18 months later, Paul says he is pain free and has been able to continue with his passion for flying as a career. He’s even taken on a new role as chief pilot for the national Shuttleworth Collection of historic planes, based in Bedfordshire. This charity organisation is dedicated to preserving the heritage of vintage aircraft including a World War 2 Spitfire and the world’s oldest plane, the Blério monoplane.
Mr Dunkow said: “Paul’s injury was very severe, but we always consider all the options and, given Paul’s existing fitness levels and career, we decided on physiotherapy to see if we could avoid surgery. We’re all delighted with the results.”
Spire Fylde Coast Hospital director, Tracey Jackson, added: “The success in this case reflects the considered, individual approach of our consultant who understood that, for this particular patient, it was far preferable to avoid surgery.”
In a remarkable demonstration of the success of his treatment, Paul recently completed a three-week climbing expedition in the Andes. He says: “I’m so grateful to Spire and to Paul Dunkow for the way they approached my treatment, most significantly finding a way to manage my condition without life-changing surgery, as this meant I was able to continue flying.”
“I’m in no doubt that Spire Fylde Coast Hospital has saved my career.”
Spire Fylde Coast Hospital
St. Walburgas Road, Blackpool FY3 8BP