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April 7, 2017

The Blessing Of Successful Shoulder Surgery

“Why are you holding your arm over your chest? Are you having chest pain?” asked Scott Ludford’s doctor, Mindy Frimodig, DO, at the Zion Lutheran Church social in Shawano last spring. Pastor Ludford smiled and assured her he didn’t have chest pain.

Shawano Pastor Regains Good Health, Hobbies

“Why are you holding your arm over your chest? Are you having chest pain?” asked Scott Ludford’s doctor, Mindy Frimodig, DO, at the Zion Lutheran Church social in Shawano last spring. Pastor Ludford smiled and assured her he didn’t have chest pain. He just couldn’t find a comfortable way to rest his arm because his shoulder hurt so much. “Come see me,” was his doctor’s advice, and as a result, he came to see many people — and his outlook on life — in a new and powerful way.

Ludford, 59, was a serious wrestler in his youth. A native of Blaine, Minn., he wrestled for Augsburg College in Minneapolis and coached wrestling at the University of Chicago. A spiritual conversion drove him to abandon this athletic pursuit in favor of history and religious studies, a path that eventually led to Lutheran seminary. For the past 30 years, Pastor Ludford has shepherded his flock in places as far away as rural Montana and Seattle and, and for the past two years, right here in Shawano. But now he was unable to extend his left and right arm in blessing over his congregation due to excruciating pain in his right shoulder.

Eric Erickson, MD, a fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care in Appleton, met with Pastor Ludford shortly after he was referred to him by Dr. Frimodig of ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano.  “I saw a significant tear in his rotator cuff that was the result of a pre-existing condition — probably from his years as a wrestler — compounded by a recent acute tear, which we think might have happened bow-hunting,” Dr. Erickson said. Pastor Ludford had another telltale symptom of rotator cuff injuries: he couldn’t sleep. “It’s one of the most aggravating symptoms of rotator cuff injuries. Patients just can’t get comfortable, and they come to me in pain and exhaustion, miserable conditions that feed off each other.”

Pastor Ludford and Dr. Erickson scheduled his rotator cuff repair surgery after the doctor gave his patient a realistic rendering of what to expect. “Rotator cuff surgeries can take anywhere from five to 12 months of recovery. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and some days will be bad and you’ll feel like you’re losing ground,” Dr. Erickson explained. “Recovery from this surgery is half physical and half psychological. The people around the patient take on a serious cheerleading role.”

It wasn’t an option to keep on living with pain and immobility. In fact, Pastor Ludford had already started to curb his passion for scuba diving, a hobby that normally instilled peace and awe in his soul. “I am addicted to diving. To be 60 feet under water with some of the most magnificent creatures on earth, it’s like a whole new universe, and the weight of the water is so calming. All the stressors are gone.” That is, until he was dry suit diving in the Puget Sound off Seattle in January 2016 and was required to cast off his regulator, place his vest on the ocean floor, and put it all back on as part of his dry suit certification. “The immobility in my shoulder made it nearly impossible to get my gear back on. I eventually wriggled back into it through a series of contortions, but I knew that it wasn’t safe to dive again until I got some help.”

Dr. Erickson operated on Pastor Ludford’s shoulder in July. “The main concern with an acute-on-chronic tear is the biology of healing. The first 12 weeks of recovery are dedicated to healing the frayed muscle tissue that has been damaged over the years. We don’t even think about a return to function, yet. It’s all about rest,” he said.

A native of Stevens Point and a member of the ThedaCare orthopedic surgery team since 2006, Dr. Erickson is a fellowship-trained shoulder specialist who performs the most shoulder surgeries in the Fox Valley. “The shoulder has more motion that any other joint in the human body. Rotator cuff tears are often a natural part of aging. By age 75, about 30 to 40 percent of people have some damage to their shoulder joint, but Pastor Ludford’s injury was extreme. It was a case that required surgery just so he could return to normal daily activity.”

Pastor Ludford’s wife Debra and his two physical therapists at ThedaCare Medical Center- Shawano, Brittany Perkins, DPT, and Jennifer Herm, PTA, were his pacers for his marathon recovery. “They kept an eye on me so I didn’t return to my old athletic mentality, that I had to push the limits of my body to make progress. They kept me focused and rested,” Pastor Ludford said. “I came to see them as women that God put into my life to help me heal, and it would be wrong not to listen.” His therapy sessions started at three per week and decreased to once per week, and each session’s notes were sent to Dr. Erickson so he could track his patient’s progress.

“Through all of this, I learned to calm myself,” Pastor Ludford said. “I have never done ‘moderation’ well. I learned to listen — as a man and a preacher — and to lean on the people of our church for help. When they rallied around our family, they gave me hope on those bad days Dr. Erickson said would come.”

Two months after surgery, the pastor was able to give a proper blessing to his congregation with both arms raised. “In that blessing, I was also praising God for my doctors and my therapists and my wife and our friends. I gained so much wisdom and compassion through this call to slow down and trust and heal. It’s significantly changed the way I see the world.”

Pastor Ludford also has plans to see the underwater world again. He returns to renew his deep-water dive certification in Lake Michigan later this year.

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in 14 counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service. For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

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