Able to Move Again: Bilateral Shoulder Replacement Makes So Much Possible
Linda Baker, a 75-year-old retired nurse from Virginia Beach, thought she could calm the pain in her shoulders if she worked out.
“I told myself maybe exercising would help. I was experiencing problems in both shoulders,” she says. “I had a limited range of motion and even felt pain at night when I was trying to sleep.”
The shoulder pain grew worse, though, despite Linda exercising and receiving cortisone injections.
“It got so bad that I couldn’t brush my hair. My husband tried to help, but he isn’t a good hairdresser,” she continues with a laugh.
A few years back, Linda had her right knee replaced and her left hip, both due to arthritis. She talked to her doctor about her shoulders, and he recommended a visit with Dr. Patrick O’Connell, a board certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder repair, along with other orthopedic surgeries.
“I knew Dr. O’Connell from my church and from my work as a nurse,” Linda says. “He is wonderful – calm, understanding and kind. He listens carefully and explains things well.”
Linda decided to move forward with bilateral shoulder replacement.
“All Dr. O’Connell had to tell me was ‘This will be so good for you,’” she says.
Because of her earlier knee and hip replacements, Linda knew what to expect from joint replacement. She had previously attended Sentara OrthoJoint Center’s preoperative joint replacement workshop. The workshop and ongoing guidance include a presentation to explain the surgery, a guidebook, recovery training for a family member or a friend, daily newsletters during a hospital stay and a board of professionals who track recovery.
“Attending the class and working with an excellent nurse navigator prepared me well,” Linda says. “My husband had rotator cuff surgery, too, so we had experience from that.”
Dr. O’Connell repaired Linda’s right shoulder in April 2018, followed by her left in October 2018.
He used a procedure called a reverse for both shoulders due to Linda having deficient rotator cuffs. With a conventional replacement, a metal ball is attached at the end of the humerus. A reverse positions the ball on the socket. This way, Linda’s deltoid muscles, instead of rotator cuffs, provide the strength she needs in her shoulders.
The reverse surgeries typically take one and a half to three hours. Patients can often return home the same day or the next.
“A full recovery, with physical therapy, can take three months,” Dr. O’Connell says. “Patients see a big improvement way before that, though. They’re so much happier after the surgery. Our shoulder replacement patients are among our happiest.”
That is the case for Linda: She once struggled to gather supplies on a high shelf; unscrewing a jar wasn’t possible; and she couldn’t reach behind her back.
“Now I can do all of that,” Linda shares, “and I exercise at home four times a week. I can do 95 percent of what I could do many years ago.”