My Custom-Made Shoulder

I have been dealing with a seriously injured shoulder for so long that, like the senior citizen I am, I have to check my notes to see what day it is and what procedure is coming up. Especially in the last six months, outside of work distractions and addictive TV shows, my whole life has pretty much revolved around my left shoulder and the accompanying pain. Lots of pain. More pain than I’ve ever experienced, pre or post paralysis. And months of it.

surgery table

You are now saying to yourself, “Why do I want to sit here listening to someone grumble about his pain – I don’t even like to hear me grumble about my own pain.” But this tale is much more upbeat. It’s about a state-of-the-art surgery procedure I’m going to have in a couple of weeks that, God willing, will fix my arm, eliminate the pain, and set me on what’s been a two-year-long journey out of the Land of the Bum Shoulder.

A quick recap: In 2022, I had a reverse shoulder replacement operation to fix my nearly-dysfunctional shoulder, involving a steel ball and a stabilizing plate inserted and attached to my scapula. Nine months later the screws holding it all together broke in two. The agreed-upon solution by all orthopedists consulted: a procedure, only five years old, called a customized glenoid implant.

In my upcoming surgery, they will again open the shoulder, this time to remove the broken protheses. They will then replace them with the implant above which has been custom-made for my particular shoulder and none other. I hope they put my initials on it.

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The process goes like this: a surgeon skilled in this technique takes a CAT scan of my shoulder, probably several of them. He then sends those picture to a customized shoulder replacement maker in, of all places, Warsaw, Indiana, pop.15,804, a little place that likes to call itself the “Orthopedic Capital of the World.” There are companies there that specialize in total joint replacement parts and pride themselves in turning out 50% of the world’s supply of these parts. Why Warsaw and not bigger, more happening Indiana cities like Fort Wayne or South Bend? Some would say there is plenty of happening things in Warsaw, like the Warsaw Biblical Gardens and the Old Jail Museum, for starters.

Anyway, one of those companies will take my scans and using 3D printing technology, create my new. custom-made shoulder. They FedEx the part back to California, the doctor implants it in my shoulder, and as I’ve been told, I should never (okay, almost never) have another problem with that shoulder.

This is all fun to ponder, in a hi-tech, what-will-they-think-of-next kind of way, but it is still a repeat shoulder replacement operation on the same shoulder, within a year and a half, meaning the same initial pain and discomfort, the same stay at a rehab facility, and the same long recovery period. But there is no turning back now and the prospect of a shoulder free from chronic pain and a full range of motion is most certainly the finish line. Those brainiacs in Warsaw aren’t fooling around.

See you on the other side.

About the Author - Allen Rucker

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

Allen Rucker

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.