Patient’s healing extends far beyond her shoulder injury rehabFeb. 18, 2021, 9:45 AM
by Jill Clendening
Eric Bowman, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon practicing at Vanderbilt Orthopaedics Franklin, first met 52-year-old Michelle O’Donnell when she had a lingering shoulder injury. As he began his examination, he realized the Vanderbilt Health community needed to step up for her in a big way.
O’Donnell had severely dislocated her shoulder when she tried to stop her 160-lb American bulldog Oni from chasing a cat. She went to a nearby emergency room where her arm was put back into place, and she was given a sling to wear.
“I was still in a lot of pain three weeks after it happened, and I couldn’t lift my arm,” she said. “I’m without insurance. I farm and live off the land. I missed an entire spring growing season because of this. I was walking to a neighbor’s house to get them to pull my hair up in a ponytail. The nurse at the orthopaedic clinic asked what my goals were, and I said to be able to fix my own hair and pick up my grandchildren.”
A mission of the Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Injury Clinic held at Vanderbilt Orthopaedics Franklin is to keep individuals with minor orthopaedic injuries out of emergency rooms.
The clinic offers convenient, accessible times for patients with time allotted for walk-ins and extended after-work hours. It is open Monday-Thursday from 4-8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. – noon.
The Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Injury Clinic sees an average of 250 patients a month, and services include diagnostic imaging, splinting, casting and concussion screening. Patients are seen by orthopaedic physicians, and if a surgical procedure is needed, that care is provided at the Vanderbilt Surgery Center conveniently located across the street.
When O’Donnell heard about the Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Injury Clinic, she walked in on a Saturday morning and met Bowman. He told her rather than immobilizing her arm, she needed to begin physical therapy to strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.
When she slipped out of the sling, Bowman saw O’Donnell’s elbow had developed cellulitis, a serious bacterial infection. He also diagnosed a torn labrum, the rubbery tissue at the edge of the shoulder socket that helps keep the joint in place, and a damaged rotator cuff, the tissues connecting muscle to bone around the shoulder joint.
“Her elbow was concerning enough to me that I told her we needed to get her on antibiotics right away, and that if it got any worse, she’d have to go to the ER for IV antibiotics,” said Bowman.
As he reviewed her medical history, Bowman realized there wasn’t much to see. Because of financial concerns and lack of insurance, it had been several years since O’Donnell had received even the most routine health care, including recommended screenings such as a mammogram.
Bowman also serves as faculty adviser for the orthopaedic clinic held at Shade Tree Clinic, a comprehensive, free health clinic in Nashville run by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students. He knew Shade Tree could provide O’Donnell the best path to catch up on her routine care, as well as physical therapy to help heal her shoulder.
“I provided some education so she could be actively involved in deciding what course to take, and she completed physical therapy,” Bowman said. “Together, we were able to prevent further complications. Honestly, the vast majority of people we see don’t end up needing surgery. In many cases, we’re able to start with more conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, injections and physical therapy.”
As for O’Donnell, she’s able to cuddle her grandkids again, and she’s eager for the spring growing season.
“I hate these masks, but I could see in Dr. Bowman’s eyes that he was so genuine,” said O’Donnell.
“I’ve learned I’m a lot healthier than I thought I was. The only thing they found was that my cholesterol was a little high. With physical therapy, within like five weeks I had 90% of the use of my arm back.
“Every time I walk in the building at Shade Tree, everyone knows my name,” she added. “They want to know how my grandkids and my dog are doing. I’ve been truly blessed by this experience. I feel great now, and there’s nothing I can’t do. As long as I’m able to hold my grandchildren or something that grows from my land from my love, that’s all I care about.”