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HCA Midwest Health

Pat Donohoe

What started as a simple pain in the neck turned out to be spinal cord compression.

June 20, 2024
Patrick Donohue and Dr. Matt Pierson

What started as a simple pain in the neck of a local elementary school teacher turned out to be the perfect elixir for his class full of curious third-graders in the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS).

“One morning when I woke up, I had a crook in my neck, but I didn’t think much of it,” says Pat Donohoe, a 70-year-old football coach and substitute elementary school teacher. “A couple of weeks later, I still had the pain, so I finally talked to my niece who works in the medical profession, and she suggested that I go see Dr. Matt Pierson.”

Not long after talking with his niece, Pat made an appointment with Dr. Pierson, a board-certified and fellowship trained a neurosurgeon at Midwest Neurosurgery Associates – a part of HCA Midwest Health, where he learned the pain in his neck was a symptom resulting from a spinal cord compression. Fortunately, the condition was treatable but would require surgery for spinal decompression and fusion.

“Pat had a C3-6 laminectomy and posterior spinal fusion C3-6,” Dr. Pierson says. “This was for spinal cord compression, which causes worsening function of the hands, arms and legs as well as numbness/tingling. If left untreated, it can result in paralysis.”

From youth leagues to the pros, Pat has mentored football players at many levels during his long history with the sport. A native of O’Neill, Nebraska, for the last six years he’s worked with Will Shields, the retired Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard and NFL Hall of Famer, which is also how he came to be a substitute teacher in the KCKPS.

Pat remembers liking Dr. Pierson from the get-go. Something about his straight-forward approach and no-nonsense style toward his patients appealed to him. Although the prospect of having back surgery was a bit daunting, there was something about his new doctor that Pat liked and had immediately put him at ease.

“I try to be very honest and humble about what surgery can and can't do for them,” Dr. Pierson says. “I make it a point to explain things in terms that make sense. I always tell my patients that by the time we are done talking, if the patient and I come to the same conclusion about what makes sense to do, then I've done my job explaining it well.”

“From the very first moment I met Dr. Pierson I felt very comfortable” says Pat. “He explained very thoroughly what was going on with my neck. He spoke in a language I could understand. He did not ‘sugar coat’ anything in regard to the pain and about how long the pain would persist. This guy is so professional that I felt very fortunate to have him as my doctor.”

The rapport between the two men was undeniable and as the day of surgery approached, Pat felt comfortable enough with Dr. Pierson to ask him for a personal favor – would he be interested in talking to his third-grade class about his upcoming surgery?

“I was sitting there thinking ‘this guy impresses me.’ I'm going to ask him if he would be interested in coming to speak to my third-grade class,” Pat says. “Without any hesitation, Dr. Pierson said he ‘would love to.’”

“I enjoy kids – I have four myself – and also love neurosurgery, so when he asked if I would come speak at the school I thought it sounded fun,” Dr. Pierson says.

“Once we set up day and time, I asked my class if they would be interested in having my doctor come in and explain the surgery to them,” Pat says. “Being third graders, I didn't think they would be interested in this but to my surprise they unanimously said yes. They wanted to hear what Dr. Pierson was going to do to Coach Pat.”

Pat tried to temper Dr. Pierson’s expectations with a dose of reality by telling him that a 20-minute presentation would probably be more than enough time for students this young to maintain their focus. To his credit, Dr. Pierson arrived at the school armed with a spine model that fascinated the kids so much that the kids were still asking questions an hour later.

“They were very engaged and asked a lot of really smart questions,” Dr. Pierson says. “This was the first time I had done something like this since being at this job. I enjoyed talking with the kids very much and would be happy to do more of it. I think it was a good experience for everyone.”

After it was over, Pat asked his students to write letters to Dr. Pierson to thank him for coming but he got even more than expected.

“They thanked him and also wrote, ‘Please take care of Coach Pat,’” he says. “Then they finished with jokes and other things. It was awesome. Dr. Pierson later told me he and his 7-year-old daughter sat down together and read the letters the class wrote. They thought the notes were very humorous. How cool is that?

“I would like people to know that if Dr. Pierson is your physician, you’re in great hands.”

When you need help for a medical issue involving the brain, spine or nerves, your healthcare quality takes on new significance. At HCA Midwest Health, we believe that you deserve the most capable specialists from a variety of disciplines while experiencing neurological issues. Our neurologists treat a wide variety of conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord and nerves. When you come to our facilities for your care, you gain access to advanced technology, procedures and care that is compassionate, convenient and coordinated.


June 20, 2024