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DENVER (KDVR) — A Colorado nurse spent three decades caring for patients while dealing with a chronic pain problem of her own before finally deciding to put her health first.  

Cindy Friedland worked in the intensive care unit for about 30 years before she retired in 2015. 

“I’ve always loved helping people my whole life,” Friedland told FOX31. 

She says the only other thing that has been a constant for her “whole life” is back pain. 

“It started when I was around 13. I remember telling my mom, ‘Oh my back hurts so bad,’ and I went to the doctor and they found that I had scoliosis,” she said. 

Throughout her life, Friedland says she tried every remedy available including braces, physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic and injections, but nothing really worked. 

“I really never wanted to have back surgery,” she said. 

She dealt with chronic pain for her entire career. 

“In the ICU, you never really have time to think about yourself. You just do what you have to do to take care of other people,” Friedland said. “It would hurt all the time, but it would hurt whether I was working or not so I made the best of it because I love taking care of patients.”

That mentality changed after her retirement when her health and quality of life began to decline. 

“About three years ago it got to the point where I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t stand. It was to the point where I could barely function,” Friedland said. 

She says her pain became intolerable. 

“It was a ten out of ten. If it was a hundred I would have been a hundred,” Friedland said. 

After a visit to the Mayo Clinic, she decided that surgery was her only option. Friedland decided on Denver-based HealthONE spine surgeon Dr. Shay Bess for the intricate procedure. 

“If you’re miserable and nothing else is working, this can be a good solution for you,” Bess said. 

He performed the 11-hour surgery to correct the curvature of her spine in August 2020. Almost immediately, Friedland says her chronic pain was reduced to zero. 

“It’s gone, and I sit up straight. It’s a different world for me,” she said. 

She now leads a full, active life including daily five-mile walks with her dog. Friedland says she is hoping her medical success story gives someone else dealing with a chronic issue hope for their future. 

“The bottom line is, you don’t have to live in pain your whole life,” she said. 

And while treatment options will vary for each patient, Bess says Friedland’s case is an example of how life-changing the procedure can be. 

“The fact that she gave so many years while she was suffering to help people at their sickest in the intensive care unit speaks worlds about her. She’s an extraordinary person,” Bess said.