Now that elective surgeries are permitted again after COVID-19 forced doctors to perform only essential operations for life-threatening conditions, patients like Judy Susmarski can finally get relief from life-altering pain.
Susmarski, 72, of Bolingbrook, had been suffering from a failed shoulder rotator cuff surgery performed two years earlier. She tried to rest, physical therapy, and injections. Nothing calmed the pain which she described as an eight out of ten.
“I was constantly in pain, especially when I moved my shoulder at all,” Susmarski explains. “I couldn’t raise my arm. Drying my hair and taking something in or out of the microwave was the worst.”
Fed up, Susmarski visited Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush who referred her to shoulder specialist Dr. Grant Garrigues, a partner at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. She was desperate to know what other options were available to her. During the appointment, Dr. Garrigues reviewed the details of her case and ordered an MRI to better understand the source of her pain. The imaging showed that Susmarski’s rotator cuff tear had not healed and she would need another surgery called a reverse shoulder replacement to free her from pain and to improve her mobility.
“I said ‘OK, let’s go for it,” Susmarski says. “I was in pain and basically couldn’t use my right arm. I was ready.”
Unfortunately, days later, the coronavirus pandemic struck, as did the stoppage of all elective surgeries across Illinois and many other states. Dr. Garrigues’ staff explained to Susmarski that surgery would have to wait indefinitely.
After two months of riding out the pain, good news came when Susmarksi got a call from Dr. Garrigues’ team that the ban had been lifted and her surgery had been rescheduled for June 4. For her, the date couldn’t come soon enough.
“I just was a little nervous about having surgery, but not at all about being exposed to COVID,” she says. “Dr. Garrigues’ staff put me at ease by explaining all of the safety measures and extra precautions put into place in the entire Rush system.”
On the scheduled date, Dr. Garrigues performed her reverse total shoulder replacement at Rush Oak Park Hospital. This procedure allows a patient to rely on the deltoid muscle to take the place of a torn and poorly functioning rotator cuff, and to power and move the arm. In a traditional shoulder replacement, the prosthesis mimics the normal anatomy of the shoulder. In this case, a plastic "cup" is fitted into the shoulder socket (glenoid), and a metal "ball" is attached to the top of the arm bone (humerus). In a reverse total shoulder replacement, the socket and metal ball are reversed. The metal ball is fixed to the socket and the plastic cup is fixed to the upper end of the humerus.
“The rotator cuff has a centering effect and this reversed geometry allows us to mimic that function with the reverse shoulder replacement,” explains Dr. Garrigues. “It’s really a special thing to see a patient’s pain and function improve so dramatically and quickly. I never get tired of sharing that joy with my patients.”
It proved to be the right solution for Susmarski who, together with Dr. Garrigues, deemed the surgery a success and then returned home to recover and rehab. Today, she is undergoing physical therapy twice a week to maximize her range of motion and she is already free from shoulder pain.
“I’m so excited to just be getting on with my normal life,” Susmarski explains. “Simple things, like doing my own hair, feels so good.”