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Enjoying Life Again: Kim’s Success Story

By, Allison R. Weder

Kim Tennant is an active woman in her 50s. She enjoys life to the fullest. “My friends and I play cornhole on Thursday nights. In the winter, I’m in a dart league. I like to bake. These are things that are important to me.” But a terrible fall at work left Kim with four tears in her rotator cuff and two tears in her bicep. “I went to catch myself with my right arm and did quite a bit of damage. By the time I went through all the workman’s compensation (process) they scheduled me for surgery in June. I went from March to June hardly being able to use my arm.” And that was just the beginning. The surgery to repair Kim’s heavily damaged shoulder was rough. “They had to cut and shorten my bicep tendon to reattach it, and they had to shave the inside of my bones from inflammation to get everything to go back together.”

After the surgery, Kim spent seven weeks in a soft cast and sling with her arm being held still at a ninety-degree angle. She slept in a chair and could only take the cast off to shower, her arm hanging at her side. The recovery process was painful. Kim describes a complication she faced. “My hand and arm had been swollen after the fall, and it only got worse. Because I couldn’t move my arm or hand for so long, my hand became swollen to four times its original size. The fluid went all the way up into my shoulder and down my side.” Kim desperately needed help to release the fluid.

Kim was directed to physical therapy for both the swelling and the rehabilitation of her shoulder. Her doctor recommended two clinics. “A few years back, my husband had two strokes, and we were really pleased with what (Phoenix) had done for him. I called and they got me right in.” Kim chose Phoenix Physical Therapy in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania. Clinic Director, Bradley Meholic, PT, DPT, evaluated Kim and knew the swelling had to be addressed first. Kim was grateful to learn relief was on the way. “They taped my fingers. I wore compression sleeves. And for the first two weeks they did passive therapy where they moved everything for me, just to get things moving and the fluid out of there. I started seeing progress after about a week and a half. By about two weeks, I could start doing some of the therapy by myself.”

After months of struggling, Kim knew she had found the best place to recover. “I was so discouraged by the time I got to physical therapy. Usually, you think when you have surgery, things are going to get better. But I came out and I was worse! (My therapists) were absolutely wonderful. They were so uplifting and encouraging. They said it was just a bump in the road. And they would get everything moving in the right direction. I felt like I was special when I went in there.”

Kim was pleased with the appointment scheduling process as well. “I went every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I kept the same consistent schedule the whole way through. They even kept the same times for me. It was great to have a consistent schedule, and I only had to miss one appointment. I was at work; I hated to call to cancel. But they were great about it and said, ‘No problem, we will see you on Friday then.’”

After about four weeks, the fluid and swelling in Kim’s arm was gone. Now, her physical therapy team, that included Adriana Azzato, PTA, and Jolene Cortina, PT, DPT, could switch gears and begin rehabilitating her shoulder. Kim was ready. “I sat on the exercise bike that had the moving arms. I would put my hands on the handles, and not use my feet. They had me push and pull my right arm, using the muscles of my left arm. They also had a pulley system there that would work the same way. I would hold on with my right arm, but I’d use my left arm to pull my right arm up and down.”

Kim began to see real results, and soon, the passive work turned into active work for her right arm. “The pain was going away. The more they stretched it and they had me doing the left arm to move my right, the less pain there was. And they built on from there, adding bands to pull and weights. Around six weeks I started using my right arm more.”

The hard work continued, and Kim kept her goals in sight. “They did not baby me, but they did encourage me. It was such a good support system there. All the therapists worked together so well. I never felt like I was wasting my time, or I was just a patient. You get to know them personally and they worked to help me achieve those things that were important to me. When I got back to throwing cornhole, I was so excited. When I went in and told them I was able to do it, they were so excited too.” Kim is beginning to get back to doing the things she loves. “I still have weakness, but that’s just building my strength back over time. I have all the motion back.” Kim plans to keep doing the exercises she learned at Phoenix PT-St. Mary’s. “They printed out every exercise I did, step-by-step for me to do at home. I have them all in a binder where I can reference it.” Bradley is confident Kim will achieve everything she sets her mind to. “Besides being a pleasure to work with, Kim showed outstanding perseverance and dedication to performing her rehabilitation both in the clinic and at home. This perseverance was key to helping her overcome some of the difficult obstacles involved in her recovery – especially in the early stages. From an outside perspective – that had to be a hard thing to do sometimes! However, it was a rewarding experience to watch her stick with it – all with a smile on her face – and return back to her prior level of function. She deserves a lot of the credit and the team here was happy to be a part of her journey!”

Kim leaves this advice for people who may not be sure that physical therapy is necessary after surgery. “You need that expert guidance. You need someone who knows the anatomy of your body and how it should work. I’ve learned a lot about my shoulder and my arm. And I’m so glad I chose Phoenix. At bigger facilities you might get lost in the cracks. This is smaller and it was like I had a second family there. They made me feel comfortable and they’re genuinely concerned or excited.”

Kim gets emotional thinking about the time she spent with her therapy team. “If they told me back in August I’d be where I was today, I wouldn’t believe it. They did so much for me. Not only the physical part but the mental part. I don’t think I could put enough thank yous into words for what they’ve done.”