FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — It began with a sharp pain.

“The day I realized something was wrong, I was playing basketball and I felt a sharp pain in my lower back,” said Marco Fermin.

What he didn’t know at the time was that he had a tumor on his spine.

“The last thing on my mind was that I would have a tumor.  I had such a healthy lifestyle.  In my mind it was impossible.”

That was five years ago.

When he was told he would need surgery that could leave him in a wheelchair, the champion mixed martial arts trainer sought alternative treatments.

“I went all around the world.  I drank venom, chlorine, urine.  I was so afraid of the option they gave me I would rather die,” he explained painfully. “It was four years of pain, a lot of pain.”

By then the tumor had grown to six pounds, the size of a newborn baby.  Fermin’s family had to practically put him in a head lock to get him to the doctor.

“On the morning of the surgery, my mom prayed.  My son was there.  I understood I could go to sleep and not wake up.”

His surgery was last year. A six person surgical team at Broward Health Medical Center operated on Fermin for sixteen hours.

Neurosurgeon Christopher Roberts removed the tumor.

“The challenges are taking it out in one piece, not spilling it and saving the nerves,” explained Dr. Roberts.

Roberts said the number of surgeons involved was like executing a stage play.

“We needed to join his spine to his pelvis to be stable enough for him to walk.”

The surgery was successful and it changed Fermin’s life.

“You do things differently.  You are more conscious and more aware.  You pay attention to the little things,” said Fermin.

Fermin said he has a special connection to Dr. Roberts who was one of the surgeons responsible for saving his life.

“It’s like he’s my brother.”

For his part Dr. Roberts said, “This is why you do what you do.  It’s a rewarding feeling.”

Nearly a year after the surgery, therapy and radiation treatment, Fermin is walking and transitioning to a new profession:  advertising.

“Using this muscle,” he said pointing to his brain, “It’s better and much easier!”