KENMORE, N.Y. – A U.S. Army veteran from Virginia is recovering after a long overdue spinal procedure that he underwent Tuesday in Western New York for free.
Kurt Santini is a U.S. Army Ranger, and for the past 18 years, he's been dealing with severe pain.
A parachuting accident left him with back and neck injuries making it difficult to walk and use his hands.
"You name the opioid, he's on it," said Operation Backbone C.E.O. Mike Sformo.
When the V.A. where he lives wouldn't agree to surgery to take the pressure off Santini’s spinal cord, Sformo with Operation Backbone stepped in. A veteran himself, his non-profit finds situations like Santini’s and matches veterans with doctors and hospitals willing to do the surgery free of charge.
"Our goal is simple, is to extract these individuals out of the V.A. system, put them into the private sector," Santini said.
Dr. Franco Vigna took out the damaged discs and replaced them with inter-body cages to stabilize Santini’s neck. The surgery took two hours and is going to allow Santini to walk pain-free for the first time in 18 years.
"Right now, I'm enjoying the fact that I ain't got no pain and it's, I really didn’t think I was ever going to get this way. The V.A. told me for years it's just permanent and told you're just going to have to deal with it. Take these opioids, take those opioids," said Santini.
Santini says the opioids just made him feel worse.
"The V.A. told me for years, there is no help. There's help. You just gotta look for it. You gotta find the right people," said Santini. "Doc, I owe you my life. I owe you my life, doc, you need anything."
"I take good care of you. Our country owes it to all you veterans. We own you having a country and our lives, too," said Vigna.
Vigna said Santini would be up walking around Tuesday night and that normally he'd send someone home from this procedure the next day, but since Santini lives in Virginia, he's going to keep him at Kenmore Mercy an extra night.