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Norbert Medeiros

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When Norbert Medeiros taught music at Westport High School, he never imagined that a fund-raiser for his marching band would propel him onto a completely different path. But that's what happened in 1996, when the long-time fan of professional wrestling was permitted to referee a match for a school benefit. The experience sparked a passion that would define a new career track.

Mr. Medeiros continued to teach but used his free time to seek experience and exposure in the world of professional wrestling. Mostly, he learned how to wrestle. "People think of it as a joke, but wrestling is a demanding contact sport that requires athleticism and skill," the Dartmouth resident explains. "You have to learn how to fall and to make moves that don't cause injury to you or your opponent."

Injury nearly ended Mr. Medeiros' dream in late 2005, when he woke up one morning with pain radiating down his leg. "I couldn't get out of bed," he says. "I couldn't function, I couldn't teach, and I couldn't move." He was desperate but also determined not to give up on wrestling. Hours of research led him to the office of David Kim, MD, a spine surgeon at New England Baptist Hospital, in early 2006.

Dr. Kim studied his MRIs and was surprised at what he saw. Although Mr. Medeiros was only 32 at the time, his spine resembled that of a 50-year-old. "He had three herniated discs that showed advanced degeneration," recalls Dr. Kim. "But when he told me he was training to become a professional wrestler, I understood why his back looked like it did."

Mr. Medeiros was looking for pain relief, but he was anxious to have any option that would allow him to return to wrestling. At the time, he was considering moving to Louisville, Kentucky, to work with trainers and promoters associated with World Wrestling Entertainment, the major franchise. "Clearly we were looking for treatment that would provide maximum pain relief, minimum downtime and allow Norbert to perform high-demand physical activities," says Dr. Kim. The first option was epidural injection of steroids. After two injections failed to provide sustained relief, Dr. Kim suggested that he consider the next option - surgery.

"The first doctor I had seen talked about surgery right off the bat, and that turned me off," Mr. Medeiros recalls. "But after my research and the visits with Dr. Kim, I was entirely confident that this was the best step, and that I had the right guy to do it," he says.

In July 2006, Dr. Kim performed a 3D-minute microdiscectomy - minimally invasive surgery that repaired the disc with the most serious damage. Dr. Kim examined the other injured discs during the procedure and determined that removing them was unnecessary. Within hours, the would-be wrestler whose friends had nicknamed him "grandpa" because of his back problem, was on his feet and free of the pain that had disabled him for months. "The only pain I felt was from the incision," he recalls.

By the time he came for his post-operative appointment with Dr. Kim two weeks later, he was feeling "perfect" but understandably cautious. A month of physical therapy gave him the confidence to return to the ring, and in September, Mr. Medeiros went to Louisville to pursue his training.

"I can't find the words to thank Dr. Kim and everyone else at the Baptist who were so good to me," he says. "They were beyond professional. Dr. Kim is just unbelievable, both as a doctor and as a person."

Today, Mr. Medeiros is working hard to fulfill his dream under the wrestling name "Grayson Alexander" while subsidizing his income by working as a substitute teacher. He now wrestles in matches around New England and, while he has suffered other injuries, he remains free of the back pain that nearly derailed his career goal. "I am getting slammed all over the place, and I feel great!" he says.