30-Year Master Dog Trainer Back on the Job
For 30 years, Richard Klassen has excelled in a physically and psychologically demanding profession — dog training. From police work to hunting, to search and rescue, Richard trains dogs for a variety of needs. During a 16-year stint in Clear Lake, Iowa, Richard provided dogs from his specially trained K9 unit (K9 refers to dogs trained for military or law enforcement work) to law enforcement throughout Iowa, eventually garnering Iowa’s distinguished service award for his extraordinary work.
For the past 14 years, Richard and his wife have lived in Palm Desert, where he now focuses on training other specialty dog trainers in addition to training personal pets. The latter endeavor led him to Shahin Etebar, MD, Board Certified Neurosurgeon and Medical Director at Desert Spine and Neurosurgical Institute, who eventually saved Richard’s health and his career.
This is Richard’s story.
In my 30 years of training dogs, I've always been very active and have worked hard to stay fit to meet the demands of my job. Dog training is a physically taxing occupation. Working with K9 dogs is particularly demanding. For this type of training, we wear protective suits with heavy sleeves. When the dogs attack, there is a lot of stress to the upper body and arm of the trainer.
Over the years we've trained dogs for many different types of work — hunting, search and rescue, narcotics and bomb detection. All of this work involves a great deal of bending, stooping and walking with a leash. At five feet and seven inches tall, I'm not a big man, although I am very physically fit. Dog trainers often retire after 20 years because of the physical demands of the job.
I met Dr. Etebar when he and his wife asked me to train their Akita. He became familiar with what I did for a living and how it taxed my body — even before I needed his help.
Six years ago, I was in an auto accident where I was rear-ended by someone going over 50 miles an hour. The accident left me with three herniated discs that grew progressively worse.
Two years ago, the pain in my neck and back became intolerable. I hardly slept more than two or thee hours a night and when I did anything, even walking across the room, sweat just poured down the right side of my face.
I finally made an appointment Dr. Etebar. He was incredibly thorough and put me through a wide variety of tests. Once he had diagnosed my problem, Dr. Etebar explained what he'd found and went over my options; medications, physical therapy, epidural injections and surgery as the last resort. He told me that the herniated discs in my neck would continue to degenerate and I would eventually get bone spurs and calcifications.
And that is exactly what happened. But at that time, my choice was to put any surgery on hold and simply use anti-inflammatory medicine. I had therapy and epidural injections which helped for sometime but did not last.
Veteran’s Day was the turning point. I dropped off a client’s dog and the pain in my arm was so bad I could hardly drive my truck. I had spasms in my shoulder and none of the medication I took made any difference. I was already in Rancho Mirage, so I drove to Dr. Etebar’s office, took the elevator to the fourth floor and walked in. The office staff said, “Hello, Mr. Klassen.” One of the women asked me if I had an appointment and I replied, “No Ma'am, but I sure hurt badly.”
Within two minutes, Dr. Etebar came out, took one look at me and sent me to the Emergency Department so I could get some morphine for my pain. I couldn't even lie down for an MRI. They finally got the images they needed and Dr. Etebar said I had three herniated discs with a tear between each disc. He said he didn't know how I was even able to walk into his office. My surgery was scheduled for the next week.
Prior to my surgery, Dr. Etebar explained everything and gave me the details about what he was going to do. He told me the surgery was a “tried and true” procedure. He seemed to really care about my needs — individually and professionally. I told him that I wanted to be able to continue my work as a dog trainer.
The surgery, performed through the front of my neck. When I woke up later that afternoon at Eisenhower Medical Center, the nurse asked me what my pain level was on a scale from one to ten. I said, “I don't have any pain. In spite of the incision in my throat, it wasn't sore at all. I told the nurse that I felt like a million bucks.
At 10:30 p.m. that night, Dr. Etebar stopped by to check on me and asked me to grip his hand. Before the surgery, I had numbness in my right hand and no feeling in two of my fingers. After the surgery, I still had some numbness, so Dr. Etebar had a physical therapist come in to work with me. After using a play dough-like ball for 25 minutes, all of the feeling in my hand returned.
In addition to the incredible work of Dr. Etebar, being under the care of the staff at Eisenhower was like getting red-carpet treatment. Everyone was so thorough.
One of the things I really appreciate is how Dr. Etebar always makes time for me. He explains everything he does, and if I have questions, he doesn't pace the floor. He sits down and listens and makes sure I understand. Prior to my surgery, he showed me the plates he was going to put in my neck and explained what he would be doing. Dr. Etebar is confident and professional, kind and compassionate. I can't say enough good things about him. I have clients who have gone to Dr. Etebar and they all rave about him.
After my surgery, Dr. Etebar made it crystal clear about what I could, and couldn't, do. I was able to drive my car after about six weeks, although I drove just a little bit at a time so I wouldn't overdo it. I couldn't believe how good I felt.
After two months, I was able to return to work on light duty. By the fourth month, I was back to 100 percent training and able to do anything I'd ever done in my career. I still have no pain. Dr. Etebar said I probably wouldn't be able to touch my chin to my chest but I can do that. I can turn my head in any direction. It’s like I don't even know that there are plates in my neck. And I would challenge anyone to find the incision mark. I can't even see it.
Another thing that was great — Dr. Etebar sent me to other experts of his caliber. The Eisenhower physician [Dr. Lee Erlendson - pain management] who did my epidural injections prior to the surgery was outstanding.
At some point, due to the degeneration of other discs in my back, I may require more surgery. I wouldn't hesitate to use Dr. Etebar. Being pain free has really lifted my spirits and boosted my confidence. My mobility is back and better than it was before I was in the car accident. I'm more appreciative of the health of my body and couldn't be more grateful to Dr. Etebar. Every time I see him, I just want to shake his hand and thank him.