Paul Zimmerman

Shoulder Replacement Surgery is ‘A Life-changing Event,’ Happy Patient Says

Paul Zimmerman of Newport, Rhode Island, is an ideal patient — one who does research, comes to an appointment prepared to ask a surgeon focused questions, approaches surgery with a positive attitude, and is conscientious about physical therapy.

All those factors contributed to his excellent outcome following shoulder replacement surgery with E. Scott Paxton, MD, at the Total Joint Center at The Miriam Hospital, a program of Lifespan Orthopedics Institute.

A retired insurance executive in his 70s, Mr. Zimmerman is typical of the baby boomers who aren’t willing — and don’t have to — live with the debilitating pain of arthritis as earlier generations did.

“I enjoy working out. I go to the gym quite frequently. I enjoy doing outdoor things, I like to hike and get out and see this country,” the trim, energetic man says.

“I found Dr. Paxton to be exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “As I talked to him during my initial visit, I gained more and more confidence in terms of the process and how he was going to fix me, how he was going to give me a shoulder that worked the way it used to work.”

After enduring the pain of severe arthritis for three years, “It got to the point where I couldn’t do so many of the things that I like to do. I couldn’t lift weights to the degree that I like to do that. I couldn’t be physically active,” Mr. Zimmerman says. “Sleep was a real problem. Every time I turned over, the pain woke me.”

After trying cortisone injections, physical therapy, and “tons of ibuprofen” that did little to alleviate his pain, he decided to pursue a shoulder replacement.

He began by doing extensive research about hospitals in the Northeast, including Boston and New York. “It was very important to me to find a doctor who was a shoulder specialist, not someone who did hips, knees, and shoulders,” Mr. Zimmerman says.

When he asked around for recommendations, Dr. Paxton’s name came up more than once. So Mr. Zimmerman made an appointment with the surgeon whose special expertise is shoulders and elbows.

The patient came prepared with a list of questions for Dr. Paxton and estimates he spent an unhurried hour discussing his case and his options.

“I found Dr. Paxton to be exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “As I talked to him during my initial visit, I gained more and more confidence in terms of the process and how he was going to fix me, how he was going to give me a shoulder that worked the way it used to work.”

For Mr. Zimmerman, Dr. Paxton recommended a stemless shoulder implant, which preserves more of the humerus (the upper arm bone) than a traditional prosthesis. This type is ideal for an active, healthy patient whose expected longevity might mean replacing a worn-out implant years down the road.

“He’s in his 70s, but lives a lifestyle of someone more in their 40s or their 50s. He’s someone that we like to try to put an implant in that’s going to give the best function of his shoulder and also, if he does need to have something done in the future … he has options,” Dr. Paxton says.

Zimmerman Whitewater
Zimmerman whitewater rafting in Idaho about a year after his surgery

Mr. Zimmerman had nothing but praise for The Miriam Hospital, where Dr. Paxton performed the surgery. Having never been an inpatient, he was unsure what to expect. His one-night stay, typical for a shoulder replacement patient, “was absolutely wonderful … people took great care of me,” he says. “I can’t say enough good things about The Miriam Hospital.”

Mr. Zimmerman did his occupational therapy at the Vanderbilt Rehabilitation Center at Newport Hospital, like The Miriam a part of the Lifespan health system, because it is conveniently close to his home.

“The postoperative rehabilitation to me is absolutely critical to having a completely successful shoulder replacement. I worked very hard at physical therapy,” he says, and is very complimentary about his experience at Vanderbilt Rehab.

Mr. Zimmerman says he was diligent about wearing his sling properly and caring for the incision, and most appreciative of the care his wife Joyce gave him. “Joyce has the patience of Job. She’s put up with me for 51 years,” he says wryly.

His recovery was so complete that he was able to go whitewater rafting in Idaho about a year after his surgery.

“Taking a patient who I see in the office, who has trouble raising their arm, can’t sleep, has terrible pain, taking them through the surgery, and then in a short period of time, getting them back to having essentially a normal shoulder, watching them get their quality of life back, that’s why we do this. It’s the most gratifying part of the job,” Dr. Paxton says.

Summing up, Mr. Zimmerman comments, “The surgery actually was a life-changing event for me. It got me back to the way things used to be before the arthritis crept in. I would honestly recommend to anyone who is suffering shoulder pain to the point where their lifestyle is affected: Do not wait. Find the right surgeon, and go to The Miriam.”

Learn more about the Total Joint Center