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Joint Decision

Carpenter Regains Quality of Life After Shoulder Replacement Surgeries

This story was originally published in Kane County Magazine, November 2017. Reprinted with permission.

When Frank Zafir was 19 years old, he had the knees of a 70-year-old.

Osteoarthritis had ravaged his joints and made daily tasks, including doing his work as a carpenter, extremely painful. Frank had to have both his knees replaced. Ten years later, his shoulders started to hurt.

“I could only raise my arms up to 90 degrees,” remembers Frank. “The pain was unbelievable. When I laid down, my arm would go numb.”

When the pain made it difficult to continue working, Frank decided it was time to seek treatment. He started seeing David H. Watt, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Orthopaedics.

They tried cortisone injections, a common treatment for osteoarthritis pain, but the condition was too far advanced. That’s when Dr. Watt suggested a shoulder replacement. “They’re quite successful for pain relief,” says Dr. Watt. “We typically don’t get all the mobility back, but it will improve the function.”

Frank had his left shoulder replaced, then had the right one done a few months later. He noticed a difference almost immediately.

“I had full range of motion within a day or two,” Frank says. “My arms feel like they did when I was 25.”

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when cartilage between the joints breaks down. This can cause swelling, stiffness, pain and a limited range of motion. While it’s one of the most common chronic joint conditions, its causes are generally unknown and treatment options are limited.

Compared to knee replacements, shoulder replacements are much less common, says Dr. Watt. It’s also a tricky procedure due to the complexities of the shoulder area. That’s why it’s particularly important for patients needing a shoulder replacement to seek out a surgeon who has significant experience with them.

“Most orthopaedic surgeons don’t do very many shoulder replacements,” Dr. Watt says. “It’s a complex procedure, and it takes someone who’s experienced with all the intricacies of the shoulder.”

Dr. Watt specializes in shoulder procedures, performing about 50 shoulder replacements a year.

With movement restored to his joints, Frank had to focus on restoring their strength. He did a few weeks of at-home physical therapy after each procedure, then several weeks of outpatient rehabilitation. He was able to return to work just eight weeks after the second procedure. For Frank, the procedure was a total success.

“It’s unbelievable,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing how it turned out. My quality of life is just 180 degrees from before. I’m completely pain free.”

Frank isn’t the only one to notice a difference. His kids, ages 9 and 10, are thrilled to be able to play with their dad again.

“I hadn’t shot a basketball in years because I couldn’t even hold the ball above my head,” he says. “Now I’m back shooting hoops with my kids. Those everyday things I took for granted before, I can do them again.”