Milton-Freewater captain's surgery focus of 'Deadliest Catch' episode

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMay 31, 2014 

Scott Campbell Jr. of Milton-Freewater is one tough sea captain, which is how he earned a reputation as one of the most successful crab fishermen in the Alaskan fleet, according to the Discovery channel's hit reality show Deadliest Catch.

But Campbell, known as Junior to most, suffered from increasing back pain last year, requiring surgery that would put him out of commission for a while.

The focus of that surgery will be aired on the June 3 episode of Deadliest Catch, which airs at 9 p.m.

Dr. David Yam, a neurosurgeon at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, performed the spinal surgery last November.

The surgery involved unpinching nerves in the lower back that cause excruciating pain, Yam told the Herald. He would not give intimate details of the procedure or make predictions about Campbell's recovery.

"It's a minimally invasive spinal surgery," Yam said. "It's a common operation and because I can make a small incision to repair it means the patient will heal faster."

The Discovery Channel sent a one-man camera crew to Walla Walla to film the events leading up to the surgery and after, Yam said.

"The cameraman did not come into the operating room," Yam said.

Yam figured Campbell would rather his doctor focus on the surgery without the distraction of a television camera moving about the O.R., he said humorously.

The Herald could not reach Campbell, who captains the Seabrooke, or his wife Lisa. But he talked candidly about his back troubles in an episode of Deadliest Catch last year.

"It's bad," he said. "My leg's numb and I keep limping more and more."

He also learned in that episode, which aired in early 2013, that his wife was making a rare trip to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to give him the news about his back. Lisa, a registered nurse, brought X-rays of his spine with her, informing him he must have the surgery or suffer permanent nerve damage and walk with a limp the rest of his life.

Campbell, 40, is said to live by the creeds "never be satisfied" and "take no prisoners." On the show he takes risks at sea and toughs out the worst situations, even after partially severing a finger during a nasty storm in the Bering Sea when he was 26 years old.

He has captained the Seabrooke for 10 years and since becoming a regular on Deadliest Catch, becoming a celebrity in the process.

Yam watched Deadliest Catch a few times before becoming Campbell's neurosurgeon, but is not a fisherman, he said.

"Scott seems to have become important to the world since being on that show and the world wants to know how he's doing," Yam said. "And because of his celebrity he could have had this surgery anywhere in the world but he chose to stay and have it done here where he lives. That says something about him."

Campbell also has a new book out -- titled Giving the Finger: Risking it all to Fish the World's Deadliest Sea -- which can be purchased in bookstores as well as on Amazon.com.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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