Among the patients who accompanied their surgeons and orthopaedic researchers to lobby for increased musculoskeletal funding were (clockwise, from top left) Debra Shoopman, Charles Shank, Robert Wentzell, and Pamela Schroeder.

AAOS Now

Published 6/1/2012
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Erin Lynn Ransford

Grateful Patients Speak to Value of Orthopaedics

Patients advocate during Research Capitol Hill Days

Erin Lynn Ransford

Debra Shoopman is a passionate cyclist. For 8 years, she has participated in Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), a week-long, noncompetitive bicycle ride across the state of Iowa, totaling more than 470 miles.

In July 2010, while training for RAGBRAI, Ms. Shoopman dislocated her left shoulder in a bicycle accident. Two months later, she dislocated the same shoulder as she was making her bed. Over the next year, she experienced chronic instability, pain, and frequent dislocations. She was afraid to use her arm, and it started to affect her job, mental health, and quality of life.

Ms. Shoopman was unable to ride her bicycle, swim, lift weights, or participate in yoga. When she did exercise, her anxiety levels would increase because she was unsure if her movements would cause her shoulder to dislocate again. After several subsequent dislocations, she endured two 6-week sessions of physical therapy in an attempt to avoid surgery. Ultimately, surgery was required to repair a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff.

In September 2011, Carolyn Hettrich, MD, MPH, an orthopaedic surgeon at the University of Iowa, performed a Bankart repair and a rotator cuff repair on Ms. Shoopman’s shoulder. Six weeks after surgery, Ms. Shoopman started physical therapy and is on her way to a full recovery. She plans to ride RAGBRAI again this summer as well as travel, and she looks forward to being able to swim laps by the end of the year. She is grateful to Dr. Hettrich and her therapists for giving her back her life.

“My shoulder has not dislocated since the surgery, and I am beginning to regain my former activity level,” she said.

This was not Ms. Shoopman’s first shoulder surgery. Nine years ago, she had a rotator cuff repair on her other shoulder. In less than a decade, research advancements have enabled minimally invasive techniques to become common.

“My incision was very small and healed well,” she said. “Although my original surgery was not as extensive as this surgery, the scar is more significant and recovery was more painful.”

Patient advocates
Ms. Shoopman was one of 17 patient advocates who participated in the 2012 AAOS Research Capitol Hill Days (RCH) in March. RCH is an annual event to raise awareness of the chronic, debilitating, and costly musculoskeletal diseases and disorders that are so prevalent in our nation. A vital program of the AAOS Research Development Committee, RCH provides both doctor and patient participants with advocacy training, including an overview of advocacy skills and legislative outreach. This year, more than 50 orthopaedic patients, surgeons, and researchers met with U.S. Senators and Representatives and members of their staff to personally advocate for the future of musculoskeletal care and stress the importance of continued support of research funding.

During more than 100 individual meetings with members of Congress, participants urged predictable and sustained long-term funding for the National Institutes of Health, specifically the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. All of the patient advocates shared personal success stories, highlighting how their orthopaedic care changed their lives and enabled them to return to activity. Putting a face to the burden of musculoskeletal disease, patient participants and their physicians shared the message of the value of orthopaedics and the significant impact research advancements have made in helping Americans recover and return to productivity more quickly.

From ACL to TKA
Like Ms. Shoopman, Robert Wentzell has also benefited from musculoskeletal research advancements. He too, shared his success story with legislators during the RCH advocacy event.

Among the patients who accompanied their surgeons and orthopaedic researchers to lobby for increased musculoskeletal funding were (clockwise, from top left) Debra Shoopman, Charles Shank, Robert Wentzell, and Pamela Schroeder.
Debra Shoopman (center) and Carolyn Hettrich, MD, MPH (right) discuss the need for increased federal funding for musculoskeletal research with Lisette Partelow, health legislative aid for Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack.

In 1981, the Breckenridge, Colo., resident tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a snowboarding accident. At the time, minimally invasive procedures to repair ACLs and other ligaments had not yet been developed. As a result, Mr. Wentzell’s surgery involved fully opening his knee, and he was placed in a full leg cast for 6 weeks. In the years that followed, he experienced intermittent pain. Ten years ago, an X-ray revealed that his knee joint had deteriorated and was bone-on-bone.

“My insurance policy at the time considered my knee pain a pre-existing condition, so I avoided getting it checked,” he said.

Over the last 5 years, Mr. Wentzell’s pain progressed to a point where it was unbearable. In June 2009, a volunteer physician at a local clinic referred him to the Colorado Joint Replacement Center, where he saw Douglas Dennis, MD. Dr. Dennis recommended total knee replacement; however, Mr. Wentzell had no insurance or other economic means to cover the cost.

With no alternative, he continued to live with disabling pain for 2 more years. He rode a stationary bike to keep his legs strong. He had pain with every step, and back and neck problems developed because he favored his right knee. But in 2011, Mr. Wentzell received a phone call from Dr. Dennis that changed his life.

“I was astonished when Dr. Dennis told me I was a candidate for Operation Walk USA 2011,” he recalled.

Operation Walk USA, a nationwide initiative sponsored by the Hip Society, the Knee Society, and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons, provides pro bono total joint replacements to patients across America who are otherwise unable to receive necessary surgical care due to their financial situations. On Dec. 2–3, 2011, 58 joint replacement surgeons from 16 different states donated their time and talents to perform much-needed procedures on 85 patients.

Five months after his surgery, Mr. Wentzell is still recovering and is becoming increasingly mobile with minimal pain. He is extremely grateful to Dr. Dennis and the surgeons who donated their services.

“The surgery to replace my chronically painful knee has given me back the desire to be social and go places and do things I had given up on,” Mr. Wentzell said.

He added, “I believe research has made recovery from joint replacement much easier. It is incredibly important to show members of Congress the results of research and emphasize the importance of continuing to advance every area of understanding of the human skeleton to keep people mobile and productive.”

Erin Lynn Ransford is the manager of research development, AAOS office of government relations. She can be reached at ransford@aaos.org

For more information on the AAOS Research Capitol Hill Days program and research advocacy initiatives, visit www.aaos.org/researchdays

For more information on Operation Walk USA, visit www.opwalkusa.com

Specialty societies at RCH
The following specialty societies sponsored participants in the 2012 AAOS Research Capitol Hill Days:

  • American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society
  • Musculoskeletal Tumor Society
  • North American Spine Society
  • Orthopaedic Research Society
  • Orthopaedic Trauma Association
  • Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America
  • Scoliosis Research Society