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Suffering constant pain in her shoulder, Jeanie Fleischer found herself powerless to perform everyday tasks. Unable to open a car door, put water in the coffee pot and reach into her cupboard, Jeanie relied on Ed, her recently retired husband, to assist with daily chores that just a few years before seemed routine.
Jeanie says that system worked for a while because after 55 years of married life, she and Ed “have a wonderful time together.” Ed understood that Jeanie’s osteoarthritis in her right shoulder, leaving her essentially bone-on-bone, caused tremendous pain with even the slightest of activities. They both knew that after injections and therapy failed, the next step recommended by her treating physician was complete shoulder replacement. Knowing that surgery can mean up to a year of recovery, Jeanie and Ed decided to rely on each other and get by the best they could.
That worked until one life-changing event. Jeanie and Ed’s daughter gave birth to their first granddaughter, Emerson. And, as Emerson got to be a little over a year, Jeanie found herself unable to pick up the baby. That was when she knew she needed to search for a better solution for her pain.
Jeanie did her research and found some hope in a new solution, adult stem cell therapy, a promising regenerative treatment using cells from a patient’s own bone marrow to accelerate healing in moderate to severe osteoarthritis. The more she learned, the more she believed that this treatment therapy might be the answer to relieve her pain without the weeks of immobilization in a sling and the months and months of rehab that would come with shoulder replacement surgery.
Then, she set to work to find a doctor in Northeast Ohio licensed and trained to put this cutting-edge treatment to work for her. She called doctor after doctor, office after office, looking for someone with the know-how to treat her pain. Jeanie believes she called up to 20 doctors, until she finally was referred to Dr. George Friedhoff (216-676-1234) at the Spine and Orthopedic Institute of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.
Through his sports medicine specialty, Dr. Friedhoff had received special training in the use of adult stem cell therapy. While more commonly used on knees and hips, the therapy is new to the treatment of shoulder damage like Jeanie’s.
After trying unsuccessful, less invasive treatments, such as the injection of PRP (platelet rich plasma), Dr. Friedhoff worked with St. Vincent colleague Dr. Lou Keppler (216-676-1234) to perform the procedure. At St. Vincent, Dr. Keppler removed bone marrow from Jeanie’s hip, which was then separated to extract just the cells needed for the procedure. Dr. Friedhoff then used ultrasound to carefully inject the separated material into the narrow opening left in Jeanie’s damaged shoulder. After that, they needed to wait to give the treatment time to work and heal the damaged tissue.
As she and Ed headed to Florida for their annual four-month winter stay, Jeanie admits that perhaps she was not as patient as Dr. Friedhoff had warned her she needed to be to let the treatment work. Dr. Friedhoff and Jeanie talked weekly by phone for the first three months after the procedure, times at which Jeanie expressed her discouragement that she was not feeling a noticeable difference in her pain. Dr. Friedhoff encouraged her to continue her stretching of the shoulder and give the healing process the time it needed.
Then, suddenly, three months turned into four months and Jeanie woke up one morning realizing she had slept through the night on her right shoulder without any pain. She started to feel better and was able to exercise every day to rehab her shoulder.
By the time Jeanie and Ed returned from their four-month stay in Florida, Dr. Friedhoff said he was thrilled to see her in his office. “It was amazing to see. She left for Florida hardly able to move or raise her right arm at all. She came back pain free with equal range of motion on her two sides.” Dr. Friedhoff is encouraged to see this as an alternative to the more invasive, more painful and debilitating complete shoulder replacement surgery.
Jeanie says she is now back to all of her regular activities. Ed no longer has to perform all the daily chores, cooking or putting dishes away. Instead, they do it together. X-rays cannot definitively explain Jeanie’s almost miraculous turnaround, but she believes that “God was with me” in finding Dr. Friedhoff and in her healing process. Her greatest blessing since the surgery, without question, is her ability to now pick up 3-year old granddaughter Emerson – pain free, and whenever she wants.