WINSTON SALEM, N.C. (Dec. 17, 1999) Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt underwent surgery this morning at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, in Winston-Salem, N.C., to repair a ruptured disc in his spinal column. Wake Forest University Medical Center is considered one of the top-ranked medical facilities in the country for neurology and neurosurgery. Handling the procedure was Wake Forest University Medical Center neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Branch.
"This injury actually happened back in March. I saw Dale in June of this year and diagnosed the problem at that time," Branch said. "We did a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan yesterday and it showed that the ruptured disc had not resolved and that Dale still had a pinched nerve from this ruptured disc.
"We are going to do an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Which means we're going to make a small incision in his neck and go between some of the muscles in his neck and remove the ruptured disc."
The procedure began at 6 a.m. ET, and was scheduled to last approximately two hours. Afterwards, a team spokesman said, "The surgery couldn't have gone any better. Dale's goal is to be prepared to race by the time the team comes to Daytona for the Daytona 500."
It hasn't yet been determined whether or not Earnhardt will be kept overnight.
Earnhardt first experienced the pain and numbing sensation back in March. Through therapy and proper diet he was able to overcome the pain and compete during the racing season. After consulting with Dr. Branch yesterday, it was determined that the disc between C6-C7 vertebrae was still ruptured. In discussing the circumstances with both Dale and Teresa Earnhardt, the decision to immediately repair the problem was made.
This operation will keep the driver out of his famous black No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet for approximately six weeks -- one of his longest absences from the race car ever. During that time Earnhardt will be dedicating all of his efforts to rehabilitation and will be ready for the season-opening event, the Daytona 500, on Feb. 20, 2000.