Richard Deitsch of SI.com catches up with former Portland Trail Blazers center Bill Walton, who is back in the broadcasting booth after suffering through years of debilitating back pain. Walton opens up about the suicidal thoughts he experienced while struggling with his health.
"When you are in unrelenting, excruciating and debilitating pain that never goes away for years on end, your life is over," Walton said. "You go through the stages of thinking you are going to die to wanting to die to the worst possible stage of all which is: I'm going to live and this is what I'm stuck with. But I got better and it is amazing what they have been able to do for me. I can think. I can sleep. I can move. I can ride my bike. I can dream."
During an interview with SI.com on Sunday, Walton said he is pain free today as a result of eight-and-half-hour spinal surgery in Feb. 2009 by Dr. Steven Garfin, the chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UC San Diego. The procedure included four incisions, four four-inch bolts, two titanium rods and a cage to hold it together. Prior to that, his life was mostly darkness, unable to walk or move, a prisoner of his San Diego house. At the darkest moments, when he thought about suicide, Walton said he drew on his friends and family who called him daily, urging him not to give up. He has four children and three grandchildren and met his second wife, Lori, at a party organized by the Grateful Dead. "I am busier than ever, happier than ever, and I haven't been this healthy since high school," Walton said. "It's a miracle what has happened to me. I have no pain. I take no medication. I had no idea what life was like without back pain."
Walton made a memorable return trip to Portland in Oct. 2009 and discussed his health with members of the Portland media.