Ocean Wave Leads to a Complex Elbow Fracture
It was the third day of her family’s 10-day vacation on the tropical island of Maui, and Rosemarie R. was standing knee-deep in the warm turquoise water along the golden coast of Wailea Beach. Within seconds, an unusually strong wave and undertow swept her off her feet. Putting her elbow down to brace herself from going under water, she felt something pull. When Rosemarie stood up, she knew that her elbow was dislocated; and she matter-of-factly popped it back into place.
Over the next few days, Rosemarie’s elbow hurt and began to swell. But she took aspirin and soldiered on through the rest of her vacation without seeking medical attention. A fitness devotee, she even performed exercises in the resort’s pool, hoping to “work out” the pain and stiffness.
“Although I’ve been married to a doctor for more than 30 years, I’m not the type to see one every time something is wrong,” admits Rosemarie. But when she and her family returned home to Berkeley Heights, she began to think differently.
A Shocking Diagnosis Leads to Surgery
Fearing that his wife’s elbow was not healing correctly, Rosemarie’s husband, Robert – an Overlook pulmonologist – urged her to get an X-ray. It revealed that her elbow was broken in three places.
Over the weekend, they spoke with John Erickson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, shoulder, elbow and wrist surgery at Atlantic Medical Group Orthopedics in New Providence. Dr. Erickson met with Rosemarie on Monday and reviewed the results of a CT scan that showed her elbow was back in place but abnormally aligned due to fractures and ligament damage. He began planning for surgery the very next day.
“Dr. Erickson informed me that, due to the complex nature of the breaks, I may have limited function of my elbow postsurgery,” says Rosemarie. “As he explained the repair process with precision-like detail, he was kind and compassionate. It Fearing that his wife’s elbow was not healing correctly, Rosemarie’s husband, Robert – an Overlook pulmonologist – urged her to get an X-ray. It revealed that her elbow was broken in three places.
To temporarily enhance the stability of Rosemarie’s elbow and improve her overall outcome, Dr. Erickson implanted a titanium internal joint stabilizer (IJS) during the complex five-hour procedure at Overlook’s Outpatient Surgery Center.
“The IJS device alleviates stiffness and gives patients greater confidence to begin early motion,” comments Dr. Erickson.
Regaining Mobility Through Rehab
Three weeks after her surgery, Rosemarie began occupational therapy under the guidance of Jeanne White, a therapist at Atlantic Rehabilitation in New Providence.
“Although Rosemarie was not expected to regain full function of her elbow, our goal was to beat the odds,” comments White.
During their twice-weekly sessions, White helped relieve residual swelling through tissue massage, relax muscles to promote joint manipulation, and practice movements that are essential to daily tasks. She asked Rosemarie to reach for something and lift it off a table or turn her hand over to receive change – movements that used to be second nature.
Three months following surgery, Dr. Erickson determined that it was safe to remove the internal joint stabilizer to give Rosemarie even greater range of motion. In a matter of weeks, White helped Rosemarie achieve full elbow extension. By the end of the therapy sessions, Rosemarie graduated to the generic gym exercises she used to perform faithfully.
“Jeanne was terrific,” says Rosemarie, who is now back to full physical exercise at least five days a week. “Not only did she restore my elbow’s full range of motion, she applied strips that reduced two huge scars on each side of my arm to tiny red lines.”
“So much of Rosemarie’s outstanding outcome was due to a phenomenal surgical repair and her tremendous motivation to heal,” comments White, who has been affiliated with Overlook for 31 years. “It was a pleasure to work with her, one-on-one, throughout the entire therapy process.”