Can you imagine not being able to lift your head without using your hand? Your chin always resting on your chest? That was the reality for one man for more than twenty years. But now he has a totally new outlook.
Even though Rodney Wente is wrapped in a brace and bandages he says, "I feel pretty good. Really good."
Likely because his view is a lot different from the one he's had for the last two decades.
"My chin was clear down on my chest," Wente says. "I couldn't raise it up on my own. I had to lift my chin up with my fingers."
That meant Wente was always looking down.
"You just can't see actually where you're going," Wente says. "You got to take your hand and raise your head up once in a while to make sure you're not going to run into something. It's just not a good way to go through life."
Wente had spinal surgery in 1994 to remove spurs. And although it was successful, his rheumatoid arthritis presented another problem.
"They have arthritis in multiple joints," says Dr. Anat Kumar, who met Wente years later. "Their muscles are weak, the tissues are weak, then it's almost like the ice cream falls off the cone and the head falls off."
Wente begged Dr. Kumar, a spine surgeon at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center, to perform the delicate surgery so many other doctors had refused.
"My fear was that because of his fusion down below what would I be doing to him?" Dr. Kumar remembers. "Would I have him stumble and fall because he couldn't see his own feet?"
Wente's wife Sharon can still recall the conversation they had with Dr. Kumar. "Rod says to him he says you were scaring me," Sharon Wente says. "And he said I'm supposed to. But he didn't scare him enough."
Now, Sharon Wente is grateful for a successful surgery, and what might lie ahead. "I feel like it's really going to maybe not make him so grouchy sometimes," Sharon Wente says.
Rodney Wente is looking forward to doing things we all take for granted.
"Just to be able to keep driving," Wente says. "Got places to go at times." And he's not slowing down.