At 91, Anne Canosa still stays quite busy. She plays bridge with friends, cooks elaborate holiday dinners for her entire family, and still drives to her shore house during the summer. Not to mention her three-wheel bike rides on the boardwalk every morning—weather permitting.
But in her early 80s, severe pain in her right shoulder began slowing her down. Having struggled with arthritis for over 40 years, she was used to pain coming and going, but this pain was constant. And when it wouldn’t abate, she knew something was wrong.
However, the chronic pain was only part of the problem. Losing her independence was almost harder to bear than the pain itself.
She could no longer lift things, reach for pots and pans, or do other everyday tasks. The last straw: She could no longer knit.
“I like doing things for myself,” Anne admits. “I didn’t like asking people all the time to drive me, or do this or do that.”
Anne’s doctor prescribed a popular painkiller, but the medication raised several red flags.
“You know, I read a lot about it, and it can injure your liver,” Anne recalls. “It could have a lot of side effects. I wasn’t happy with it, but I was taking it because I had no choice.”
Kind of a Big Deal
After nearly six years of taking painkillers, Anne decided to search for alternatives. She sought help from a rheumatologist and another clinic, but was unhappy with both.
In 2009, her search led her to David Glaser, MD, Chief of Shoulder and Elbow Service at Penn Orthopaedics. Because of the severity of Anne’s pain, Dr. Glaser recommended joint resurfacing surgery to repair the joints in both of her shoulders.
The shoulder joint itself is a big deal. It’s a unique, complex joint that plays an important, but often overlooked, role in movement—until you’re in pain.
“You need to have good surfaces. You need to have the ligaments for stability and you need to have the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles for motion,” explains Dr. Glaser. “If any of those structures throw things off, it can lead to severe dysfunction and pain.”
Anne, a retired school nurse, was nervous about having surgery and the recovery that would follow. But she was completely confident about Dr. Glaser.
“When I met Dr. Glaser, I had no doubts that surgery was the way to go. And that was my decision,” Anne affirms.
Dr. Glaser performed the surgery on her right shoulder in December 2010. Although it’s an open procedure, Anne was out of the hospital after two nights.
Resurfacing vs. Replacement
During total shoulder replacement surgery, surgeons make an incision and use artificial parts to replace the joint’s troublesome parts. Instead, in Anne’s case, she was having key parts of her shoulder resurfaced.
“You’re just resurfacing the joint, which is more akin to resurfacing a truck tire or getting a new set of brakes,” Dr. Glaser says. “You’re not replacing everything, just the surface.”
Anne says despite her anxiety about the surgery, the Penn team put her at ease.
“I felt very, very confident, very comfortable, and I felt secure,” Anne says. “There was always somebody around. When I went in for the surgery, there were tons of doctors and nurses. There was no moment where I was left alone to worry or be fearful.”
Two years later in 2012, at age 88, Anne had her left shoulder joint resurfaced.
The Birthday Pitch
Two weeks after surgery on her right shoulder, Anne was playing bridge. And after surgery on her left shoulder, she finally got back to knitting.
“I can’t find anything to complain about,” she boasts now.
Indeed, Anne can do everything she wants to do and then some.
On her 90th birthday, fully recovered from both surgeries, her family took her to a see the Wilmington Blue Rocks Minor League Baseball team play in Delaware.
All of her children came out for the event, along with her grandchildren, nieces and nephews. When they escorted Anne into the stadium, she had no idea what was going on.
One grandson was outside, handing out flyers: “Hear ye, hear ye,” he yelled. “On this day, an amazing woman was born,” Anne recalls, chucking.
She thought she was heading to her seat, but instead she was going to throw out the first pitch. One player asked if she would like to be moved closer to the catcher. Nope. She’d pitch from the mound, thank you.
“I threw it, and there was just a little bounce beyond home plate,” she says. “But it went, and the catcher got the ball. I was very happy about that.”
However, Anne’s greatest victory makes her even happier: throwing away those painkillers.