How an innovative surgery is helping Mike get back in the game

Lifting weights and being involved in active sports are a huge part of Mike Istwan’s life. So when he started having shoulder pain in 2006, he tried physical therapy first.

“I wanted to be as active as possible,” he said. “At the time, I was told surgery would end up compromising my strength and flexibility.”

Rehabilitation helped for several years, but in the summer of 2016, it became clear that Mike would have to find another solution.
Mike Istwan (left) had both shoulders replaced in a procedure invented by Sean Churchill, MD (right), at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton.
“My wife and I bought a home near Green Bay. We gutted the inside ourselves before having it remodeled,” he recalled. “I was still doing what I needed and wanted to do at that point, but the pain in my shoulders became unbearable.”

He soon found it difficult to do simple things, like get dressed, shave and brush his teeth.
“The final straw was when my wife told me she couldn’t sleep in the same room with me anymore. I was in so much pain at night that I was keeping her up too.”

Mike made an appointment with an orthopedic surgery specialist at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.

“The doctor told me I needed both shoulders replaced. The right shoulder was arthritic, had bone chips floating inside and no cartilage. The left was in nearly the same condition,” said Mike. “He told me that in a couple of years, I wouldn’t be able to use my shoulders at all.”
An easy choice

Mike’s options seemed limited. Traditional shoulder replacement surgery involves inserting a long stem into the arm bone to anchor the new joint in place. The arm has to stay in a sling for six weeks before physical therapy can begin. Recovery time can last months.

So before making a decision, Mike talked with his son, a physical therapist at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. He recommended making an appointment to see Sean Churchill, MD, an orthopedic surgery specialist who had invented a much less invasive shoulder replacement procedure.

“While the stem has been great for shoulder replacement for 60 years, it’s not without its shortcomings,” explained Dr. Churchill. “One of the issues is the potential breaking of the bone around the stem.”
Watch Dr. Churchill explain his stemless shoulder replacement technique in this video.
In 2004, Dr. Churchill began designing an innovative stemless device.

“And in March 2015, we were granted the right to implant the first FDA-approved stemless shoulder device in the country,” said Dr. Churchill. “When I started seeing patients come back, it was very gratifying. We were seeing less pain, better range of motion, improved outcomes and a much quicker recovery.”
For Mike, it was a relatively easy decision – especially after traveling to Grafton to meet Dr. Churchill in person.

“Before the appointment, my wife and I had decided that if we felt confident with Dr. Churchill, that we would do the surgery,” explained Mike. “It only took a few minutes to know he was the guy who could take care of me. In fact, he told us to go home and think about it, but we said, ‘No, we’ll schedule it right now.’”

Getting back in the game

Dr. Churchill replaced Mike’s right shoulder in July 2017 and his left shoulder just a few months later in October.

“The recovery time for these surgeries was less than it would have been with a traditional shoulder replacement,” said Mike. “I was only in a sling during the one overnight stay in the hospital. I started physical therapy the day after the surgery. It took about a month to get back my full range of motion, then I did strengthening therapy for about 10 weeks.”

As he was nearing the end of his work with the therapist, he met someone who had had the traditional replacement.

“Interestingly, we’d had our surgeries at about the same time, but he was just starting his therapy.”
Mike is 75 years old now, but his shoulders feel as good as new. He’s completed physical therapy and returned to his normal workout routines, as well as tasks around the house and the couple’s few acres of property.

“I don’t know if I’ll play tennis competitively again, having been away from it for a few years,” he said. “But I’ll definitely be landscaping and playing some pick-up basketball.”

And he credits Dr. Churchill, his staff and the physical therapists he worked with for where he is today. There was also a little bit of luck.

“If my son hadn’t been working at Aurora and if I hadn’t talked to him about it, we wouldn’t have known about stemless surgery. I’m so glad to have crossed paths with Dr. Churchill,” Mike said. “I think Aurora is incredibly fortunate to have him. He’s an extraordinary doctor. I think his method, skills and knowledge are something people should take advantage of.”
Dr. Churchill looks over Mike’s x-rays at a recent appointment.
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