With his life in complete upheaval due to a condition doctors couldn’t identify, boxer Eric Gonzalez finally finds relief with physical therapy.
“Everything was spinning; I couldn’t function”, states Eric Gonzalez. “The dizziness I felt was debilitating and affecting all areas of my life. I just felt so much despair.” Gonzalez was suffering from an extreme balance disorder, only he didn’t know it at the time. In his youth, and into adulthood, he loved doing contact sports like boxing, football, and motocross. “When you’re into those types of activities, you do bang your head a lot,” he says, “but when you’re young you don’t think about it; you get up and if you feel OK you keep going.“ But two years ago, when Gonzalez was in his late twenties, he had a motocross accident where he hit his head and blacked out. It was around that time when he first starting experiencing the symptoms of his balance disorder.
“It was a pretty bad accident,” he recalls, “I landed on my head and banged it pretty hard, even though I was wearing a helmet. And this time, the dizziness didn’t go away. Usually by the end of the day or the next morning it would have gone away, but it stuck with me and I felt I was slurring my words and not making any sense.” Still, Gonzalez managed to live with these symptoms – for a while. There would be some days where nothing would happen, and others where his balance was really off. “There would be times when I would get up, completely lose my balance and shoulder block the wall, and I would think it was funny; I didn’t really pay too much attention to it, but after a while, everything started to get worse.” Soon, simple tasks like shampooing his hair, watching television, and even driving in his car became difficult for him to perform.
“I was a complete mess; I had zero balance…and if I closed my eyes, I lost all sense of orientation. I would get anxiety before going to sleep because waking up in the morning was so terrible; as soon as I opened my eyes, my bedroom would be doing somersaults and I would dry heave and couldn’t get to the bathroom without help… it was horrible.” Gonzalez suffered these balance disorder symptoms for several years in silence. “I didn’t tell my wife or my family. I just kept it hidden… waiting for it to go away, but it never did.” He thought he could handle the symptoms and live with them, but they were beginning to affect all areas of his life.
With his symptoms getting progressively worse, an incident at his job made Gonzalez realize he couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. He recalls, “I was having an important discussion with my boss, and right in the middle of it, I forgot the entire conversation… I asked him what he was talking about, and then I started to feel really sick, really lightheaded, and then I was out. I had passed out right there on the floor.” It was then that Gonzalez knew he had to seek medical help for his condition and find out what was wrong with him. Getting a diagnosis, however, proved to be a frustrating and challenging endeavor.
“I went to every kind of doctor I could think of, but nobody could actually tell me what was wrong,” he states. “I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was just scared! I’d sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office for 30 minutes, they’d see me for 5 minutes, and then say ‘Sorry, I can’t help you.’ It was very frustrating.”
Finally, after visiting six different doctors, Gonzalez went to see Dr. Lomax, an ear, nose, and throat specialist. “He ran some tests and I’ll never forget his words,” he recalls, “Dr. Lomax said to me, ‘There’s something definitely wrong with you, but I don’t exactly know what it is,’ and I just started getting emotional, tears welled up in my eyes, and I said to him, ‘But, you were my last hope.’ I felt weak and was starting to despair. But then he said to me, ‘Look, I can’t help you, but I think I know who can. I’ll make you an appointment.”
After seeing so many doctors already and not getting any closer to an answer, Gonzalez didn’t get his hopes up. But he wasn’t about to quit trying. So, the next morning his wife dropped him off at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers in Las Vegas, where Dr. Lomax told him to go.
FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center in Fort Myers is a 5,000 square foot state-of-the-art balance center with some of the world’s most renowned balance experts and cutting edge programs. It is the result of 15 years of evidence-based clinical medicine. It redefines balance and vestibular care and is one of the leading, if not the top, balance programs in the nation.
That’s where Gonzalez met Brian Werner, PT, the clinical director of the center, and Steve Hurtado, PTA, who he would work closely with during his therapy. “Brian Werner was very reassuring and just a kind soul and he made me feel at ease,” explains Gonzalez. “When I first got there, they did some tests on me to try to bring on my symptoms, and, boy, they came on strong!” By bringing on his symptoms, Werner and his team were able to figure out what was wrong with Gonzalez.
“I never thought I’d be happy to have a diagnosis, but I was so happy to finally have one and thought to myself, ‘Now, I can move forward.’”
Although Gonzalez finally had a diagnosis, it was still a very difficult time for him. “I remember as I was hanging from a harness tied up to the roof on that first day at FYZICAL, I couldn’t help but think, ‘What happened to me?! I’m an athlete! I’ve been at the top of every sport I’ve ever done; I’ve excelled in all things… and now look at me, I’m hanging from a harness. How did I get here?” Gonzalez asked those same questions of Steve and Brian and they were straight with him; they told him he had had brain trauma.
“I responded, ‘No, I haven’t!’ Gonzalez laughs, “But they told me like it is. I listened to everything they said because they were the ones who finally diagnosed me and right after that, they stated, ‘here’s how we’re going to fix it.’ Honestly, there was nothing more reassuring than that; it felt good.”
The physical therapy sessions Gonzalez underwent started off with simple tasks, such as reaching down and picking things up, walking on uneven flooring, and walking in the safety overhead support system (S.O.S). “During that first session,” he states, “I was a complete mess. I was hanging in the S.O.S. like a rag doll. Any movement, any at all, if it was sudden, and my body would give out, and if I turned too quickly to look at something, the whole room would spin… I must have looked like a lost cause. Steve (Hurtado) and I built up a rapport very quickly; he knew I would work hard and he really knew how to get me moving. We just meshed and worked really well together. After that first session, he became my biggest fan because he knew I was going to push as hard as I could to get back to 100%.”
Though the physical therapy tasks sound simple enough, they were far from easy for Gonzalez in the beginning. He explains, “It was really tough at first, but every day I’d be able to accomplish things I wasn’t able to do before. I knew things were going in the right direction.”
Sure enough, little by little Gonzalez started to feel better every day: “Every morning I didn’t feel as sick and after each session I felt more in control. I was able to focus better; I was able to do things like watch TV. I was really starting to feel more like myself again. After a couple of months, I went to the gym where I train and told my trainer what was going on. He told me to take it easy, and, of course, I was going to avoid any shots to the head. I got on the mat and it was a great day! I worked up a sweat, I was there with my brothers, and it was just great.”
After five months of therapy, Gonzalez was back to his former self again, only better, according to him. “I haven’t felt like this in I don’t know how long! I tell Steve and Brian all the time that this is really a life changer! I feel fresh, there’s no cloud. I’m back at work now and things couldn’t be more terrific. In fact, I’ve excelled more and performed better this past year than I ever did in 10 years with this company! My coworkers are happy to have me back. They tell me I look different, my face is different, my attitude is different, I’m funny again; humor is important to me and I did lose that for a time. I feel brand new – it’s amazing!”
Gonzalez no longer boxes, but as it’s his passion, he’s still very much involved in the sport. “I help a lot of fighters get ready for fights. I’ve been in a lot of training camps and help out. My best friend just had his first pro fight and I was able to help him throughout his training.”
“It’s just not worth it,” Gonzalez says of doing contact sports, “after what I went through and how horrible I felt. But now, I’m at 110%. I’m just so thankful for Dr. Lomax, who recommended FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers to me, and for Steve and Brian who worked with me. They got me back to myself again. I will forever be indebted to them… my wife and I speak about it to this day.”
Gonzalez still remains in touch with Steve and Brian and sometimes stops into the center to say hi. “I was just talking to Steve who asked how things are going, and I was happy to share with him recently that my wife and I are expecting our first child. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to separate myself from the folks at FYZICAL, “Gonzalez states.” I am always thinking about them and how they helped me; I’m back to where I’m supposed to be and I will be forever extremely thankful to them. They changed my life.”