While Tiger Woods warmed up late Thursday morning at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas for his first tournament round in 10 months, the Plano-based back surgeon who made it all possible was in the middle of one of several procedures he was scheduled to perform Thursday on regular, non-golf-legend patients.
At least that’s what I was told when I phoned the Texas Back Institute and asked whether Dr. Richard Guyer might be available for an interview, seeing as how his renowned patient was about to return to the world golf stage, albeit in an unofficial event, the Hero World Challenge.
Five minutes later, I received a call-back from Cheryl Zapata, the Texas Back Institute’s Chief Development officer.
“Under the law, I can’t even acknowledge that that person is even a patient,” Zapata said, when I told her I hoped to ask Dr. Guyer about Woods. “I have no HIPAA authorization to release any information on any patient that you’ve mentioned —or non-patient that you’ve mentioned.”
Such are the constraints of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the 1996 legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.
We know for a fact, however, that Guyer is the orthopedic spine surgeon who in April performed Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion surgery on Woods somewhere in the Dallas area. We know because a news release on Woods’ website stated these as facts.
Guyer even supplied a quote for the news release about Woods’ expected rehabilitation and recovery from the surgery, which was described as a minimally invasive fusion at the L5/S1 vertebral segment at the base of the spine. The surgery entailed removing Woods’ damaged disc and re-elevating the collapsed disc space to normal levels, thus allowing one vertebrae to heal to the other.
“If you are going to have single-level fusion, the bottom level is the best place for it to occur,” Guyer said in the April news release. “Some individuals are born with one less vertebrae, which would be similar to someone who had a single-level fusion.”
Based on the 3-under 69 Woods shot Thursday in the Hero World Challenge, it would seem his surgery and rehab were resounding victories. It must be pointed out, however, that Woods, 41, had three previous back surgeries, each declared a success, only to result in short-lived comeback attempts followed by searing discomfort.
“This surgery was about quality of life because I didn’t really have much,” Woods told reporters earlier this week. “I’ve been in bed for about two years and hadn’t been able to do much.
“People ask me, ‘Why don’t you go out to dinner?’ I can’t, I can’t sit. So to be able to have the ability to go out and do things like that, and on top of that to be able to participate in my kids’ sports again—as you know, I love sports, I like playing sports and I grew up doing it, so to be able to play with them again, man, I’ve missed it.”
After his round, Woods appeared to get emotional when asked what his thoughts were as he prepared to play his first competitive round in ten months.
“I was very thankful this morning,” he said. “I was, in my head, thanking all the people that have really helped me and gave me a chance to come back and play this round again. There are a lot of people that were instrumental in my life—friends, outside people I’ve never met before, obviously my surgeon. So there have been a lot of people. I was very thankful. I tried to make sure, in my head, to thank every one of them.”
If Woods can resume anything close to a normal lifestyle, that would make longtime North Texan Guyer something of a hero, regardless of whether Woods adds to his 79 PGA Tour victories (second-most to Sam Snead’s 82) or 14 major championships (second to Jack Nicklaus’ 18).
So who is Richard Guyer? His short biography on the Texas Back Institute’s Center for Disc Replacement’s website only touches on but a few of the highlights of a clearly illustrious career. Here are some of his background and most noteworthy achievements:
• He attended high school in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He remained in the state for college, graduating from Ursinus College in 1971. He earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine in 1975.
• According to his Curriculum Vitae, dated March 2011, his beginnings in Texas appear to be when he interned at Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital from July 1975 to June of 1976.
• He returned to Pennsylvania for his residency, which he completed in 1980, before moving back to Texas for stints at Houston’s Hermann and Shrine Hospitals from 1980 to 1982.
• In 1982, he returned to the Dallas area, at which time he began honing his specialties in back research and spinal surgery. In 1986, he became co-director of Parkland’s spine clinic, as well as founder and director of Plano-based Texas Back Institute.
“When we first started our research institute,” Guyer says in a YouTube video embedded in his biography, “we had been involved with using some of the very early diagnostic techniques that are commonplace today. For example, we were one of the first to use CT scanning; we were one of the first to do MRI scanning . . . but we didn’t stop there.”
Among the techniques Guyer and his colleagues helped pioneer was endoscopic disc surgery, laparoscopic surgery and thoracoscopic surgery.
“My treatment philosophy is to treat my patients the way I would want myself or my family members to be treated,” Guyer states in his bio. “I always utilize what I like to refer to as the ‘family test’ when advising treatment and surgical options for my patients.”
On Thursday, Guyer’s familial treatment of perhaps his most famous patient was on vivid display in the Bahamas. And that famous patient made sure to thank him within his thoughts, even if he didn’t say his name publicly.
Who knows? Ma ybe Woods will come to North Texas in May, thank Guyer personally and stay around to play the AT&T Byron Nelson.