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Determined young surgeon and orthopaedic innovations help patient regain use of shoulders

For someone who had always been fit and needed to remain strong for his job, Howard “Nick” Nichols was alarmed when lifting his arms became increasingly painful. More than 15 years of repetitive motion and unaddressed injuries were worsening his shoulder pain.

Nothing helped — not rest, physical or occupational therapy, corrective surgery or pain management. His physicians didn’t have good answers. Then in 2007 at age 49 and due to his physical condition, Nick, a second-generation locomotive engineer, was forced to retire from the job he loved.

“I tried to take care of my shoulders by staying active, when I could,” Nick explained. “I even became ambidextrous to give one side of my body a break.”

His condition continued to deteriorate, though, to the point he felt crippled in his early 50s. Yet Nick refused to give up. A routine appointment with his new primary care physician Abbey Oshel, DO at Liberty Hospital Primary Care Shoal Creek led to a conversation about his shoulders.

“Dr. Oshel recommended a final attempt with physical therapy. After more therapy but no progress, she suggested I see a specialist who had treated someone in her family with great success. She is an angel.”
Nick met with Chris Reams, MD, an MU Health Care surgeon at Liberty Hospital Orthopaedics who specializes in treating shoulders and elbows. Nick felt comfortable with Dr. Reams immediately.

“Dr. Reams is the coolest doctor I’ve ever met. He is so charismatic, caring and positive. He identified several serious issues that were keeping me from living my life — arthritis, a destroyed rotator cuff and damaged labrum — and he suggested options I’d never heard of. We agreed I needed two shoulder replacements.”

Nick was relieved to have information and a path forward that included a customized navigated surgical plan for his shoulder replacements with titanium implants. To prepare for surgery, he was inspired by the classic movie Karate Kid and built strength by painting a room in his house. “I worked so hard to be ready for surgery. I wanted Dr. Reams to know how motivated I was and to give him as much muscle as possible to work with.”

Nick’s determination, optimism and preparation paid off. Both surgeries were successful. He recovered well, and his shoulders are symmetrical. After completing physical therapy at Liberty Hospital Sports Medicine and with Dr. Reams’ blessing and encouragement, Nick is back to working out.

“Dr. Reams told me ‘you have no idea how great this is going to be for you,’ and he was right.”

Learn more about hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder care