Healing a hero

Firefighter is rebuilding his base at Washougal Sport & Spine

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After having spinal fusion surgery, Doug Murray, a City of Vancouver firefighter from Camas, builds strength and flexibility in his back at Washougal Sport & Spine.

Doug Murray dedicated 31 years of his life to fighting fires for the City of Vancouver.

The 53-year-old from Camas suffered a back injury when one of his legs fell through the floor of a burning home in 2007, but it went undiagnosed while he continued to work.

“I fractured two vertebras. They healed, but there was so much scar tissue,” Murray said. “I was able to do my job for about five more years. It just degenerated and got worse and worse.”

Murray first came to Washougal Sport & Spine for relief in Oct. 2012. With the help of physical therapist Kimberly Williams, Murray discovered he had a bulging disc in his lower back. He had lumbar spinal fusion surgery in March.

“Having an unstable spine and pelvis makes it difficult to sit, walk or do anything,” Williams said. “He basically didn’t have a base to move around.”

“That area is like the cornerstone of your whole body,” Murray said.

Murray and Williams are working together to rebuild that base through manual therapy, therapeutic exercise and electrical stimulation.

“It’s a roller coaster ride,” Murray said. “Kim gives me new exercises and challenges me. Sometimes, I just have to go home and rest. When I wake up the next day, I feel like a million bucks.”

Williams and Murray are focusing on both hip and core strengthening using planks and side planks, lunging patterns with pulleys, treadmill lateral walking, swiss ball exercises and squats. She said his positive attitude, determination and willingness try new challenges makes her job easier.

“Doug is now able to walk one to two miles per day, do some yard work and has returned to regular house activities including dishes, laundry and feeling the dog,” Williams said. “He is able to drive short distances and shop, all of which he had been unable to do for two years. So, he is continuing to make great gains.”

Williams and Steve McCarthy are the co-owners of Washougal Sport & Spine. McCarthy said the approach to each patient is different.

“People don’t just come in here and do the same exercises. We offer a wide variety of treatments,” he said. “Everybody’s goal is different, whether it’s to get back to work or to recreation. It’s a true enjoyment to see people walk out of here with a smile on their face.”

Murray knows he might have to retire from fire fighting. His goal is to reinvent himself in a new career that is not as physical. He also wants to get back on to his favorite hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge and stay active with his two teenage daughters.

“I want to be able to do the things with my family like I used to do. Go on trips, go to the movies and go out to dinner,” he said. “It’s amazing all those things you take for granted.”

Murray looks back on his career as a firefighter with great pride. He also has no regrets.

“I loved the camaraderie with fellow firefighters and knowing I made a difference in people’s lives,” Murray said. “Vancouver has had some major fires and rescue situations during my time. Just being a part of mitigating those emergencies was very rewarding.”

Murray went on vacation to Kah-Nee-Ta in Warm Springs, Ore., with his wife, Mary, and daughters, Jang and Meili. He was able to hike and swim for the first time since having surgery. Small steps toward the giant leaps he hopes to be making a year from now.

“I’m able to do more and more every day. To me, that’s a good sign,” Murray said. “It’s still a marathon. I have a ways to go, but I’m getting there.”

Murray thanks Williams and the staff at Washougal Sport & Spine for helping him on this road to recovery. He lunges, stretches and pushes his body further with every visit.

“My range of motion has improved, my strength has improved and just my general health overall feels better too. I owe all of that to Kim and this place,” Murray said. “Just because you have surgery doesn’t mean that you’re fixed. There’s a lot of physical therapy that goes along with it. Just stick to the plan and keep working.”