For Karl Andersen, 69, building houses for more than 30 years involved a lot of physical strength. Using heavy equipment and tools was the nature of the job. “I always did the ‘big guy stuff’,” Andersen jokes.
After he left home building, the Watseka, IL resident had more time to devote to his passion: knife forging. This ancient art, which can take up to 50 hours to create just one knife, involves crafting a blade from a single bar of steel which is heated and then pounded into shape. It requires the forger to stand at specialized equipment for extended periods of time.
Andersen eventually became renowned for his craft. He was sought out for his expertise all over the country and enjoyed customers from around the world. He received a “Journeyman Bladesmith” certification in the American Bladesmith Society.
But several years ago, while working on a knife at his surface grinder maneuvered by a crank handle, Andersen felt excruciating pain in his shoulder.
“I felt like someone had buried one of my knives into my shoulder,” he says.
His right arm fell limp.
“I could only pick up a cup of coffee and brush my teeth – that was it,” Andersen adds.
Getting the right help
He called his primary care physician who examined him and explained that he had damaged his shoulder and needed care from a renowned shoulder specialist. He recommended Brian Cole, MD, MBA, of Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH.
Andersen scheduled a visit with Dr. Cole who ordered imaging and performed an exam. Dr. Cole explained to his patient that he had developed tears in his shoulder over time which had caused fluid to accumulate leading to a painful cyst compressing a nerve in the shoulder. That was why Andersen was experiencing extreme pain and loss of strength.
“I showed Dr. Cole photos of my knives and asked him to help me get back into my shop to continue my craft,” Andersen says. “I told him I couldn’t be a one-armed knife maker. I was almost in tears.”
Dr. Cole understood, reassured his patient that he would do his best to return him to top form, and scheduled Andersen for surgery as soon as possible.
“During the surgery, we identified a cartilage tear known as a labral tear that was associated with a cyst which we repaired at that time,” Dr. Cole says.
Back in the shop
Following surgery, Andersen had weeks of physical therapy to help the healing process and within a year, his weakness resolved, and his shoulder was 100% functional and pain-free.
“Everyone on Dr. Cole’s team and at Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH was terrific,” he adds. “So, I wanted to create something special as a thank you for him.”
And he did just that.
Earlier this year, Andersen made a French quillon presentation dagger, a very elaborate, double-edged piece that took 70 hours to create in his shop. He presented this gift to Dr. Cole at the Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH offices in Chicago.
“The greatest gift of caring for people is sharing in their recovery and the gratification that comes with their elimination of pain and return of function,” Dr. Cole explains. “Seeing his care return him to performing a craft that he loves and then sharing his amazing skills by handcrafting me a knife are the most special gifts a patient has ever given to me and our practice.”