September 2, 2021
Suzanne D’Ambrose was just getting back to the ranch after a delightful autumn ride in September 2019. Suddenly, her retired Standardbred racehorse, “Indy”, experienced a freak stumbling accident and sent the experienced equestrian flying. Suzanne knew there was a problem as soon as she landed on her left shoulder. She told her companion, “I think I broke something.”
An ambulance took her to Jersey Shore University Medical Center. It was a familiar place; the 65-year-old from Neptune, New Jersey, had done her EMT training there years before.
Orthopedic surgeon Kenneth G. Swan, M.D., who specializes in sports medicine and shoulder surgery, was brought in. “The ball at the top of her humerus—the large bone in the upper arm—was pretty much shattered,” he says. While there were several possible treatment options, her age and desire to get back to her work with horses and kids made a partial hemiarthroplasty (the ball at the top of the humerus is replaced with an implanted metal device) the best option.
Because Suzanne’s medical history includes a heart murmur, her care team needed to ensure her safety during the surgery, so they performed a series of cardiac tests before she was cleared for the procedure.
During Suzanne’s three-hour surgery, Dr. Swan was able to repair her shoulder while preserving her rotator cuff function. Two days later Suzanne left the hospital with her arm in a sling and instructions for caring for it. She healed well, and three weeks later began physical therapy at Dr. Swan’s office that was only minutes from her home. That therapy would continue for a year.
Dr. Swan describes the process of healing from this shoulder surgery: “The standard protocol is six weeks in a sling. Suzanne’s early physical therapy after three weeks began with gentle range-of-motion exercises. Strength training would begin at 10 weeks. Recovery takes a lot of time and can be painful.”
Suzanne remembers that at the time of surgery, Dr. Swan was concerned that Suzanne might only regain about 60 percent of function in her shoulder. “I can get to about 100 percent of normal range of motion with my shoulder now,” she says. “Even Dr. Swan was shocked.”
It’s not a complete return to her pre-fall condition, though. “I know when I’ve done too much, and I know when it’s going to rain!” she says, laughing.
While she was itching to get back into the saddle, Suzanne had to wait six months before her healing and physical therapy results made it safe for her to ride again. Now that she’s healed, she is back to teaching kids about horses including harness racing and horse massage, a specialty of hers. She’s grateful for the help she received from Jersey Shore and Dr. Swan: “It’s amazing what I can do with my arm because of him.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Kenneth G. Swan, M.D. To make an appointment with Dr. Swan or another doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn more about care after a sports injury
- Do over-the-counter knee braces really work?
- Getting back on track after a sports injury
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.