Pedaling Again, No Surgery Required

doctors and patientAfter breaking five ribs and hurting his shoulder in a bad fall off his road bike, Jim Harris feared he had a rotator cuff tear that would require surgery. Learning he could heal with more

conservative treatments at Hampton Roads Orthopaedics Spine & Sports Medicine was a great relief.

An MRI showed the blunt impact had injured the tendon in the 77-year-old’s right shoulder but left it intact. Dr. Thomas Fithian recommended a course of physical therapy to rebuild motion and function, along with a cortisone injection to relieve residual pain and stiffness.

“After several weeks, I was basically pain-free,” says Harris, a Gloucester resident and retired philosophy professor at the College of William & Mary. “All of the therapies I needed were available at one practice, and Dr. Fithian took plenty of time to explain all the steps to me. He had a great bedside manner.”

Whenever possible, Dr. Fithian’s medical philosophy is to give any nonsurgical options “a thorough try” before turning to the operating room if needed. He also enjoys educating his patients about their conditions, via detailed conversations, charts and models.

“The more they understand exactly what’s going on inside their body, the better they are able to participate in their recovery,” notes Dr. Fithian, a fellowshiptrained shoulder specialist. “They’re more likely to comply with restrictions on movement and follow physical therapy instructions. My job is to do all I can to help them succeed, which is very rewarding for me whether they need surgery or not.”

Harris, an avid recreational biker, was riding alone at Yorktown Battlefield in July 2018 when he lost control and crashed as he turned around on a cul-de-sac. He managed to get up, straighten his bike, ride three miles back to his truck, load up his bike, and drive himself home. His wife, Andrea, took him to the emergency room at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center.

For the first weeks after his accident, Harris’s broken ribs were his main source of pain. After about a month, he realized his shoulder was still aching and called HROSM, worried he would face an invasive surgery and long recovery. Delighted that he didn’t, Harris also was relieved that his appointments always ran on time and addressed all of his questions about inoffice and at-home therapies.

Three months later, Harris is already back on his trail bike and hoping to resume road riding in the coming spring. “I’m waiting to get my body completely right again, but I’m definitely planning on that,” he says. “I can’t wait.”

An animal lover who grew up on a farm, the grandfather of three is also back to volunteering weekly at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News and enjoying the outdoors on his 7-acre property along the York River.Dr. Fithian is grateful, too. “I’ve always been a relatively conservative surgeon, and I think it’s served my patients well,” he says. “It makes me happy to know that he’s doing so well.”