Shoulder Surgery Video: David's Story

A world-class marathon swimmer follows his dream to compete again.

When injury threatened this world-class marathon swimmer, David turns to Sharp-affiliated orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gregory Alberton and Sharp Coronado Hospital. This story follows his dream to return to competition at the highest level.

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Lisa, David's Wife: He's a marathon swimmer. He's a Superman kind of guy.

David: I've swum the English Channel. I've swum around the island of Manhattan and I've swum the Catalina Channel. The three of those events are the Triple Crown of open water swimming. There's only been 50 or 60 people that have managed to do all three of those. And that's pretty cool.

Lisa: Well, we like to ride trails on our quads and motorcycles.

His tire sunk into a really soft spot and the whole bike flipped and he went over the handlebars.

Dr. Gregory Alberton, Orthopedic Surgeon: And he sustained a pretty severe fracture of his left clavicle.

Lisa: It really, he really looked hurt.

Dr. Alberton: You can see here there's three large fragments. This fragment in the middle is actually called the butterfly fragment, we call that, because it's been completely separated from both ends of the bone.

David: He immediately said, "Well, this is as bad as they get." This shoulder is like two inches shorter than this shoulder because of the way the break happened.

Lisa: We need your shoulders to work for swimming. He doesn't kick his way through the water, he pulls his way with his shoulders.

David: If you damage your shoulders, you're not a long-distance swimmer. Swimming is a real big part of my life. When I'm going to sleep at night I'm swimming in the ocean. And I hope I get to do it, because I've been worrying that, "Oh my God, I might not get better."

Lisa: And that's not OK.

Nurse: Go ahead and put it down. Thank you.

Dr. Alberton: What causes most of the pain is the bone fragments moving. We'll use a metal plate and screws to get the pieces back where they belong.

Nurse: They're ready for you.

Dr. Alberton: They will also restore the length to his clavicle, which will help regain the normal shoulder biomechanics, which will be important to his long-distance swimming.

Nurse: We're ready to proceed, Doc.

Dr. Alberton: Thank you, the left side is correct.

As an orthopedic surgeon, we're in a very happy branch of medicine because we can restore function that is lost, bringing back quality of life.

I'm trying to find the ends of the different fracture fragments, so we can piece it back together. And then we'll place some small screws and then the plate. And it looks like this may come together pretty nicely here.

We're going to check it under X-ray. That actually looks almost like one piece now.

We were able to restore the length of the clavicle and restore the alignment of the fragments.

Jessica Johnson, Music Therapist: And get you to close your eyes.

There's something about music therapy, it's not a performance. It's a music experience that you facilitate.

And whenever you're ready you can open your eyes.

David: Wow.

Jessica: You're with the patient and you have this connection with them.

David: I'm not normally a believer. (laughs) I'm a very, I'm an engineer, you know? That fluff and stuff doesn't really get — do it for me. But, oh my God, that was really relaxing and spectacular.

Dr. Alberton: So yeah, I think doing some in the pool with the kickboard would be great.

David: He was very intent, "Well, we have to get you back to swimming." And I appreciate that he shared that concern, 'cause that's the way I feel. I mean, I gotta get back.

I just can't wait. I miss it.

Kimberly Ott Setzler, Physical Therapist: So, show me what you got.

David: This way?

Kimberly: Mmm-hmm.

Dr. Alberton: Our goal is to first restore the full motion of the shoulder and then the strength and then the endurance as well.

Kimberly: Don't let me move your arm.

You know, a lot of times you're talking to them on an emotional level, what's going on in their lives, their children, their parents. We're not just healing the body, we're helping with the soul and the mind as well. It's great.

So we're just trying to prolong the life of your sport, your passion.

My hope for David is that he is inspired to keep doing what he loves to do, for as long as he can do it.

David: I'm out there swimming and I'm not even thinking about my shoulder now. The next things that I'd like to do are the Strait of Gibraltar, where you swim from Spain to Morocco. That sounds pretty romantic.

Friend: Good job! You're back, man.

David: For an old man, I did OK.

Female Friend: Well done, sir. Well done.