World record-setting Olympic weightlifter finds relief from nerve pain after lumbar surgery

February 23, 2024 | by Endeavor Health

High school English teacher, world record holder, wellness coach and Olympic-style weightlifter. Danielle Colan, 47, of Gurnee, has been a competitive athlete throughout her life. When she’s not working as a high school teacher and raising her daughters, she focuses on Olympic lifting and her health.

“Going to the gym is my anchor. I schedule going to the gym three times a week. When I don’t have it scheduled, everything else falls apart,” she said.

In 2021, Colan’s back went out as she got off her sofa. She thought she pulled a muscle, but she began experiencing endless nerve pain. Her lifestyle as she knew it was put on hold.

For three months, Colan tried physical therapy to relieve her discomfort, but the pain never went away. She struggled with everyday tasks.

“When I was done teaching for the day, I’d have to pump myself up to walk to my car,” she said. “I thought, ‘It’s a 5-minute walk, you can do it.’ Even making dinner at night was a struggle,” she said.

Colan’s weightlifting coach recommended Endeavor Health sports spinal surgeon, Srdjan Mirkovic, MD, who also spent 15 seasons as spine team physician for the Chicago Bears. Colan scheduled an appointment with him as soon as he was available.

After running some tests, Dr. Mirkovic noticed a disc hitting a nerve in Colan’s back. He recommended a lumbar microdiscectomy, a procedure that removes a herniated disc in the lower spine.

“I was actually relieved to find out I needed surgery,” she said. “Dr. Mirkovic told me once we took the pressure off the disc and fixed the rupture that it would give me some relief,” she added.

The day of her surgery, Colan was filled with confidence due to Dr. Mirkovic's assurance that her quality of life would be back to normal. With his experience rehabbing professional athletes after spine surgery, he also provided crucial sports-specific, weightlifting and conditioning advice. 

“For me as an athlete, Dr. Mirkovic asked about my goals and what I wanted out of my health. He’s really a thoughtful physician,” she added.

Almost immediately after the procedure, Colan was encouraged to walk as much as she could to help with her healing. Thrilled that she was no longer in pain, she walked for miles.

“I definitely had limitations and was encouraged to take it easy, but within six weeks, I was back in the gym doing physical therapy and light training. I’ve had two knee surgeries and this was the easiest surgery I've recovered from,” she said.

Colan surgery date is embedded in her mind. It’s a day she feels grateful for.

“Moving my body is my main stress reliever. Though I no longer train like I used to, I’m really thankful to be able to move and stay focused on my health, my family and my job,” she said.

The team of experts at Endeavor Health Orthopaedic & Spine Institute offers world-class options close by. We use innovative, minimally invasive techniques for joint replacement, complex spine surgeries, sports medicine and more, so you can get back to the activities you enjoy sooner. Learn more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.

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