Retired Dolphin Kim Bokamper: Back Surgery ‘Gave Me My Life Back’

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July 14, 2020


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Retired Pro Bowl linebacker, Kim Bokamper, saw no other choice than to go through with the back surgery that would ultimately return him to a normal life. 

Mr. Bokamper, who played for the Miami Dolphins from 1976 to 1985, says that playing professional football was “certainly one of the greatest things he’s ever accomplished in his life.”  However, throughout the 22 years of playing football — from the time he was a young boy, though high school, college and the National Football League — the repeated hits took their toll on his back. He would feel the effects much later after his football career had ended.

(Watch video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from patient Kim Bokamper and Raul Vasquez, M.D., director of Complex Spine Surgery at Miami Neuroscience Institute, about Mr. Bokamper’s back surgery. Video by Steve Pipho.)

Until recently, he had always endured back pain, but it was tolerable, says Mr. Bokamper. However, over the last couple of years he began feeling a shooting pain down his legs.  His back pain became so severe that he often slept in a recliner. His life became too much about getting from one chair to the next because he could only stand for a few minutes at a time.  That’s when he approached John Uribe, M.D., team physician for the Miami Dolphins, who reviewed his X-Rays and recommended he go through with this surgery. And Dr. Uribe told him he had the “just the right guy” for the surgery, recalls Mr. Bokamper.

Raul Vasquez, M.D., director of Complex Spine Surgery at Miami Neuroscience Institute, said that Mr. Bokamper’s back had a “severe case of spondylolisthesis and lumbar stenosis.”  Dr. Vasquez evaluated the options with Mr. Bokamper and agreed that restoring his quality of life was paramount. The surgery involved two levels of spinal fusion, restructuring the lumbar vertebrae to create space for the nerves, cushioning the area between with carbon fiber disks, and stabilizing the spine with rods and screws. 

The challenge of this type of definitive surgery is making sure that everything is accomplished, and in this case, it was, said Dr. Vasquez. He “expects that Mr. Bokamper will be pain free for the rest of his life with no further back surgeries.” 

Mr. Bokamper says he was “very impressed with the professionalism of the whole (Miami Neuroscience Institute) team, impressed with how Dr. Vasquez took his X-Rays and mapped out exactly what needed to be done, and used all the tools at their disposal to make it a positive outcome.” 

Now, Mr. Bokamper is able to get back to do the things that he loves such as bike riding, which he does for about 15 to 20 miles each time. He also goes kayaking, and has restarted his golf game. 

Back pain can and will affect almost everyone as they age, but one way to help minimize the risk is keep a tight core and do the proper exercises to strengthen those muscles. However, if you are in distress, Mr. Bokamper recommends that individuals “talk to doctors, talk to neurosurgeons, find one that will give you the right information and go with them and get it done.” 

His recommendation is working with someone at Miami Neuroscience Institute.  Mr. Bokamper says he is extremely grateful for Dr. Vasquez and the entire team because he’s at the point where he can barely remember he had the back pain at all — and “quite frankly they gave me my life back.”

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