Achieving the smallest things can make all the difference for those with mobility issues.

Like being able to roll over in bed. Or standing up on your first go. Or stretching.

Beloved Waihi pre-school teacher Kate Mullaney has returned from a Europe trip after having life-changing lumber spinal surgery by an expert German surgeon.

She's been home for a month and already feels the benefits from surgery. She expects more relief from pain as times goes on.


Kate suffered from ongoing pain due to five degenerative discs in her spine, narrowing of the spine and herniated discs. The lumbar spinal discs L1-5 were compressing and the rest were crumbling.

Things were getting desperate for Kate. The Waihi Kindergarten head teacher loves her job but it was becoming extremely hard.

''I just knew I could not make another term at work, I was becoming more and more incapacitated.''

All she wanted to do was to continue work.

So she took matters into her own hands and reached out to a renowned lumber spine surgeon. She says she opted for the German option as it offered the best chance of success.

With son Max, they set off at the end of June. The surgery was an invasive six-hour event inserting two prosthetic discs. The operation involved an anterior opening where the surgeon approaches the lower back from the front through an incision in the abdomen which meant less recovery time.

Kate says she was more excited than nervous before the operation.

''I wasn't nervous. I knew this was my only option. I was excited and happy to be there. I knew this was going to be life changing for me.''


Kate also knew what to expect of the environment as she is a thyroid cancer survivor.
The operation was a success. She was told she would never be completely pain free, but Kate's pain is very low compared to what it was before surgery.

''It's totally manageable.''

The hospital stay was meant to be two weeks but Kate was out in eight days. Recovery was spent at a rehabilitation centre where she stayed for three weeks exercising, swimming, undergoing physio and massage.

There were some ''hard days'' in recovery.

Kate was not able to receive ACC in New Zealand as her back pain had been degenerative. She had to look elsewhere to help aid her recovery.

The hospital stay, surgery and rehabilitation cost $113,000. Kate and husband Kevin got a second mortgage to fund this.

''I was really worried about how we were going to manage it but I just had to do this,'' she says. The alternative was give up work and quality of life.

The community helped raise $16,000 through various fundraisers. Kate is ''beyond thankful'' for the help. This money has gone towards her recovery while not working.

Kate's aim is to return to work next year. She's already popped in a few times to visit.

''I miss my tamariki. When you're a teacher, you are part of a community.''