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Chicago: The City of New Shoulders

Chicago, Ill. (July 22, 2008) – 20-year-old Quinn Donmyer was desperate.

I asked to have my arm cut off,” she said.

The Chicagoan’s right arm hung uselessly, and her right shoulder was in such constant pain she was becoming addicted to Vicodin. Worse, three orthopedic surgeons said nothing could be done for her. Her right shoulder had been destroyed. It couldn’t be replaced and she’d just have to live with the pain.

But three years later, Donmyer has a normal appearing shoulder, full movement of her right arm, and no pain at all. She’s even throwing a softball again.

“I’ve been given a new life,” she says.

Ms. Donmyer has benefitted from a revolution in artificial shoulder surgery. In the last decade shoulder replacements have more than doubled from 15-thousand to 40-thousand per year. This decade they’re expected to double again.

One reason why is Dr. Anthony Romeo of Rush University Medical Center. The orthopedic pioneer has made Chicago the epicenter of a new era of shoulder surgery

“New shoulder implants give patients the potential for a normal range of motion that may last a lifetime,” Dr. Romeo says. Dr. Romeo spreads the message by traveling worldwide to educate his fellow colleagues in the most advanced techniques for total shoulder replacement (most recently in Argentina, Thailand, Italy, and Germany.)

Dr. Romeo has also helped invent new implants. Since 2000 he’s worked with European developers to improve prosthetic shoulders for the worldwide marketplace. The surgeon says his most recently developed shoulder replacement system called the Univers II, is the most durable and natural yet.

“We’ve made significant improvements from past models,” he says. “The Univers II doesn’t need cement so the new prosthesis bonds better with bone. In many cases it may last a patient’s lifetime with more then 90 percent of the procedure’s lasting greater then 10 years. In addition, for the first time the Univers II lets us position the ball and socket in the most natural position for each patient’s shoulder joint. We can recreate the mechanics of the original joint.”

The new revolution in shoulder implants is similar to that for new hips and knees. The difference is the advance in shoulder replacements has gone largely unnoticed. Even by most physicians.

Dr. Romeo says, “Most doctors still give patients a far too pessimistic vision of what a shoulder implant can do. The traditional thinking is that replacing a shoulder is an act of desperation. And that you never do it with a younger patient because the joint won’t last.”

That was Quinn Donmyer’s experience. At 18, her shoulder cartilage had been destroyed by a rare complication during a routine arthroscopy. Over the next two years three orthopedic experts surgically looked inside her joint and concluded her condition was beyond treatment. “They said I‘d have to live with the pain for another twenty years before any surgeon would think of replacing my shoulder,” she recalls.

Quinn went through two years of agony, but her family refused to give up. Her father read about Dr. Romeo in a medical journal. In 2005 the surgeon replaced her damaged shoulder with an artificial one.

Dr. Romeo says, “These implants are so new, we can’t know for sure how long they’ll last. But based on prior shoulder replacement studies, we estimate they’ll function at least 15-20 years and probably longer.”

“The problem is that patients and their physicians are unaware of the recent advances in shoulder replacement surgery,” he continues, “and the tragedy is many people live in constant pain, with useless arms, who don’t need to.”

As results continue to improve, the surgeon predicts the threshold for implanting a new shoulder joint will get lower and lower. For instance, he expects the procedure to become a standard treatment for severe arthritis in all patients.

Quinn Donmyer has now graduated from UI-Chicago and works in a downtown architects’ office,

“I’m so grateful. I knew I couldn’t live like that for the rest of my life. (Pauses) I don’t know what I would have done if Dr. Romeo hadn’t agreed to do this.”

“I often think of all the people who never get a second chance,” she says. “It’s just so unfortunate.”

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