‘Armed’ for Success
Sandra Dorrance-Torres tore her rotator cuff last October when she missed a step and grabbed hold of a railing. Being right-handed, her first thought, was “Thank God, it’s my left arm.” However, she was surprised by how little she could do. “I couldn’t dress or undress myself, button or unbutton my blouse, zip my pants or even brush my hair,” says the 54-year old wife, mother and grandmother, who lives in Brighton. Worst of all, she couldn’t play with her grandchildren.
“That was the toughest thing,” she says. “I couldn’t hold them when they wanted to be held.”
Fortunately, Dorrance-Torres was referred by an emergency room physician to Dr. Lucas Schnell, a fellowship-trained shoulder specialist who joined the Center for Spine and Orthopedics last September. Upon examination and x-rays, Dr. Schnell diagnosed Dorrance-Torres with a massive rotator cuff tear that would require surgery. Surgery was a big concern for Dorrance-Torres. She had taken prednisone since age 18 following a kidney transplant. Prednisone weakens your bones,” she says. “I was concerned I would re-injure myself, need another surgery or be in pain all the time, but Dr. Schnell assured me that there was a good chance I would have a good outcome.”
In November, Dorrance-Torres had rotator cuff surgery. “It amazed me how he could go in there and repair such a mess,” she says. “My tissue was like spaghetti, and I had bone spurs, too. He had to put in a pin to hold the tissue to the bone. He has a good reputation, and now I know why.”
After surgery, Dorrance-Torres used a shoulder cuff ice machine at home to help with inflammation. She also followed her doctor’s other orders, such as not using her arm even when it felt better. A couple weeks later, she began physical therapy and was given exercises to do at home. Week by week, she noticed a difference in her range of motion and was eventually able to lift her arm straight up, which was her toughest challenge. “Dr. Schnell is an excellent surgeon, and the physical therapy was essential to healing,” she says. “Knowing that my physical therapist was in contact with my doctor was a nice feeling, too. I felt like I had a team working for my recovery.”
By the end of January, Dorrance-Torres could use her arm a lot more and once again hold her grandchildren, too. In mid-February, she returned to work. When asked for advice, she says, “Follow your doctor’s orders. So many people don’t do the physical therapy or exercises at home, but it makes a huge difference. I knew I’d have to give 100 percent, and I did.”
“Sandra was an excellent patient. She was compliant with her exercises, which was key to her success,” explains Dr. Schnell. “It takes commitment from the surgeon and the patient to produce great results.”