Up & Away: Jack Hoffman’s Story

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Oregon Clinic

Jack Hoffman lives for adventure. At 72, he flies airplanes, skis, and rides motorcycles and snowmobiles. He has hand-built houses, mined for gold in Alaska, and is currently restoring an antique gas pump. Over time, the cumulative impact of this “work hard, play hard” life has taken a toll on his back. He can’t point to a single injury that led to his years of back pain. “It just disintegrated,” Jack says.

Years of severe pain meant taking high doses of narcotics that left him foggy-headed and kept him from flying or riding his motorcycle. After more than 20 years of suffering from chronic back pain, he thought there was no hope for living a pain-free life and enjoying his adventures and hobbies.

Jack Hoffman is best known as the star of the reality TV show, Gold Rush. Born and raised in Oregon, his first career was as a real estate broker. After many years in that business, he “got bored and wanted to do something different.”

Seeking a new adventure, friends who had gone gold mining inspired Jack to give it a try. After an initial attempt at gold mining in the 1980s, Jack returned to Alaska with his son, Todd, in 2010. The Discovery Channel thought their father and son quest of gold would make a great story and the show Gold Rush was born.

Despite working his dream job alongside his son and being on a reality TV show, Jack was suffering daily. With agonizing chronic back pain, he had to take narcotic pain medication to get through each day. He didn’t enjoy being on narcotics, but didn’t know of an alternative.

This all changed when he met Dr. Martin Baggenstos, a neurosurgeon at The Oregon Clinic. Dr. Baggenstos specializes in the treatment of cranial, skull base and spine disorders with an emphasis on minimally invasive surgical techniques. One treatment he provides is non-narcotic pain management through spinal cord stimulation. When Jack was referred to Dr. Baggenstos, he had little hope, saying, “It was like a last-ditch effort. I was beside myself and in agony.”

With spinal cord stimulation, a small device is surgically implanted in the spine to block pain signals to the brain. This device allows patients to reduce or eliminate pain without the fear of becoming dependent on narcotics or experiencing side effects from narcotics.

Jack agreed to try spinal cord stimulation, saying, “I’ll go through anything to get rid of the pain.” As with all patients, Dr. Baggenstos began with a temporary implant to see if the device would work for Jack. The temporary implant was a success and Jack went on to have a permanent implant placed.

After the placement, Jack initially felt like something wasn’t quite right. “I felt something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was,” Jack recalls. Then it dawned on him: “It was that I didn’t have pain and I’d had pain for over 20 years. To have relief from that was just unbelievable.”

Now with the spinal cord stimulation implant, Jack’s life has transformed, “I don’t have any pain. I enjoy life. I’m clicking along at 72 right now and my family lives pretty long. My parents lived well into their 90s. I don’t expect anything different.”

Dr. Baggenstos and the pain-blocking implant have given Jack the chance to live pain-free and to pursue his hobbies. No longer constantly negotiating between feeling pain or enjoying life, Jack is forever grateful to Dr. Baggenstos saying, “I thank him every day for doing this and telling me about it. I would recommend it to anyone in pain.”