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Second Patient Travels 6,000 Miles For Even More Complex Lat Tendon Repair
A surgery most surgeons will never perform – or even see – was done twice in one year at Inspira.
Two patients faced a similar, challenging, question: What do you do when you have injured yourself in a way that no surgeon in your area has ever repaired?
Well, if you are Monroe Township, NJ police officer, Craig Staffieri - or a patient from the other side of the globe - you turn to Dr. Mark Ayzenberg and the orthopedic team at Inspira Health.
Craig, 28, is a fitness enthusiast, an Air Force Reserve veteran, and a martial arts practitioner. He was competing in a jiu jitsu tournament in August 2021 when he injured his dominant right arm and shoulder.
“I was exerting myself pretty hard and I heard a crunch or snap sound,” he said.
Though he managed to finish the match, he started experiencing pain in his arm soon after.
“I think my adrenaline helped for a little while, but as it started to fade, I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I had to forfeit the rest of the tournament and when I walked to my car, I realized I couldn’t use my right arm to open the door.”
Thinking it might be the kind of muscle strain or sprain that young, active athletes know all too well, Craig took it easy for a few days and waited to see if the discomfort subsided. But it soon became evident that it might be a more serious injury.
“I’m used to doing sets of pullups in the gym, but a few days after the injury I couldn’t do even one,” Craig said.
A visit to an urgent care facility resulted in Craig being referred to Mark Ayzenberg, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon. An MRI revealed a torn latissimus tendon, a rare injury, that would benefit from surgery, soon.
The latissimus dorsi, commonly called the “lats”, are the large muscles in your back that help move your arms and support your shoulders. They are some of the largest muscles in the human body. The lat tendon attaches that muscle to bone.
In his career as an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Ayzenberg had never encountered a latissimus tendon tear. In an effort to care for Craig, he reached out to more than twenty orthopedic surgery colleagues across the United States, but found none had ever repaired a lat tendon tear. He agreed to perform the surgery, reviewing all the information he could find. He also recorded both his preparation for the surgery and the surgery itself so that he could help teach other surgeons across the nation.
Craig said that he feels fortunate that he was referred to Dr. Ayzenberg.
“I’m glad I met Dr. Ayzenberg. Even though I was his first patient with this injury, he was really reassuring. He said, ‘It’s going to be OK’. I felt an immediate confidence and trust in him after our first conversation,” Craig said. “He was extremely honest and straightforward. Before the surgery, he called to talk with my family and me at the same time. He spoke with my mother and my sister, who is a registered nurse, and explained what he would do to fix me.”
The several-hour surgery took place on September 1, 2021 at Inspira Medical Center Vineland and Craig began months of physical therapy shortly afterward. Within a year, he was back to most of his activities and all his job requirements as a law enforcement officer. He even sent Dr. Ayzenberg a video showing him once again doing pullups in the gym.
Discussing what it means to have his range of motion improving all the time and his strength back, Craig, said, “It’s an absolute blessing. I can’t thank Dr. Ayzenberg, his entire team and the physical therapists who worked with me for months enough. This was my first experience with a serious injury and my only surgery. But I feel like it was a shared experience with Dr. A. He continued to check up on me long after the surgery. I feel like we have a bond.”
While Dr. Ayzenberg’s goal of posting the surgery online was to educate other surgeons on this procedure, it resulted in the unexpected: Another young man with a latissimus tear contacted him—from nearly 6,000 miles away.
Dr. Ayzenberg’s second latissimus tear patient reached out from a country known for its advanced health care system. He had been looking for someone to repair his injury for almost six years and found Dr. Ayzenberg via the YouTube video he’d made about the first surgery.
After a careful, long-distance assessment, the patient flew to the United States and Dr. Ayzenberg did the “once in a lifetime” operation for the second time in a single year, with the second one being significantly more challenging given the six year delay before surgery. Almost immediately, the patient felt a difference—his muscle tension was restored. After completing some physical therapy and taking time to heal, the patient flew back home. He reached out a few months later, writing “I feel absolutely amazing, improving every day. I have near full range of motion, I’m starting to get my strength back but I’m not pushing too hard, not rushing…”
Though Dr. Ayzenberg doesn’t expect to see another latissimus tendon tear in his career, both patients have benefitted from his willingness to take on the challenge utilizing medical innovation, collaborative knowledge and resources at Inspira that made it possible.