The first time Beverly Williams saw Dr. Coleman, she was in a wheelchair. “I was having tremendous pain in my left ankle,” she says, but that’s not why she sought care at OSC. Only in her 40s, Beverly has suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis since the late eighties, so she attributed her ankle pain to RA. “I assumed it was part of the joint breaking down,” she says. It was a natural assumption: she’d already had all but one of her joints replaced – all but her left hip.
A former reporter with The Daily Press, Beverly had worked in the field for years, covering the courts, criminal and civil, in both Hampton and Newport News. She suffered the effects of RA, undergoing several joint replacement surgeries throughout her journalism career, until she ultimately took a less strenuous job with the communications department at Ferguson Enterprises.
It was in 2009 that her reporter’s keen eye caught a notice in the paper announcing one of OSC’s community lectures: Dr. Coleman was speaking about new modalities in rotator cuff repair and shoulder replacement. She’d had surgery on her right shoulder in 2000 in Richmond, and “…swore that I’d never go through that again, because they cut through my rotator muscle to get to the joint. That recuperation – the physical therapy – was so painful.” But her left shoulder had started to break down, and she was in constant pain. “I knew something needed to be done. Pain is something you remember, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through that again. But I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I was. It was hurting to get dressed – I started wearing cardigans because I couldn’t get clothes over my head.”
With her reporter’s curiosity, she was also intrigued by the new technology. She attended the lecture and subsequently made an appointment with Dr. Coleman.
After examining her and reviewing her x-rays, Dr. Coleman remembers, “Beverly’s joint was destroyed and she literally had no rotator cuff. Ten years ago, when people like Beverly came to see us, we’d have to say, ‘sorry, we can’t help you, we can’t make you better.’ We would give them cortisone shots and they’d keep suffering.” He told her that a conventional replacement – putting a ball where the ball was and a socket where the socket was – could give her some pain relief but no function. She’d be unable to lift her arm, and worse, the repair could quickly fall apart, leaving her back where she started.
But that was ten years ago, he assured her, and then described the new procedure: a reverse total shoulder replacement, which relies on different muscles to move the arm. “The very clever French researchers who discovered this particular device realized that if you put it in basically backwards – that is, if you put a ball where the socket was and a socket where the ball was – then the outside muscle, the deltoid muscle, can do the work that the cuff used to have to do,” Dr. Coleman explained, noting that “It’s a mechanical issue; it has to do with the lever arm being better with that arrangement.”
At the time, Dr. Coleman had been doing the reverse total shoulder replacement procedure for about six years. “It was the Holy Grail of shoulder surgery,” he says. “Everybody had been looking for something like this. They’d tried dozens of different techniques – all kinds of things trying to solve the problem – but the French figured it out and it’s become the standard. Everybody now generally agrees this is the best way to solve a problem like Beverly’s.”
Shoulders are Dr. Coleman’s real focus, and he had adopted the procedure early on because he recognized its value, especially since he knew it would offer relief from pain as well as improving range of motion. They booked the surgery.
Of the post operative period, Beverly says, “It was totally different from the right shoulder. Instead of cutting through the muscle, Dr. Coleman was able to just move it out of the way to do the replacement. My healing time and physical therapy were so much better.” Today, she says, “I have more range of motion with my left shoulder, the shoulder Dr. Coleman did.” Naturally right-handed, she’s even begun doing some things with her left hand. She still protects her left hip, but realizes that it too might ultimately break down because of RA. “After the seminar and meeting with Dr. Coleman, I felt I was in good hands, really comfortable,” she says, and “after the surgery and the physical therapy at OSC, there was no doubt I was in the right place. If my hip becomes an issue, OSC would be my first option because of the treatment I received there.”
For someone who had suffered so much and for so long, such a good result would have been remarkable. But that’s not the end of the story, and not why Beverly remains grateful to Dr. Coleman and to OSC. Recalling her eighteen months in the wheelchair, Beverly explains: “At one of my appointments with Dr. Coleman, my mother asked if he knew anyone who works on feet and ankles. He immediately referred me to a local foot and ankle reconstruction specialist, who took one look at my ankle and said I had a ruptured tendon.” She had been walking on a ruptured tendon for about 4 years, until the pain forced her into the wheelchair. Her foot was already beginning to deform to the left.
“It was because Dr. Coleman referred me to the foot and ankle specialist that I got my ankle straight and got out of the wheelchair,” Beverly says. Able to walk without ankle pain, and move without shoulder pain, she was able to exercise, and has lost around 150 pounds. And the wheelchair? “I use it for a desk chair!”
She calls herself “literally, a new woman”; and in fact, when Dr. Coleman saw her at a community event – where she was a featured speaker – he didn’t recognize her. “She was out of the wheelchair, moving around comfortably, and she just looked terrific,” he says.
Today, Beverly devotes her time to working on behalf of patients with RA. As part of the Patient Ambassador Program with The Snow Companies, Beverly produces a monthly webcast, providing information and encouraging conversations about how to live successfully with rheumatoid arthritis.
“No one knows what causes RA,” she explains, “although it’s known that it can be hereditary. In my family, my paternal grandmother was diagnosed in her 70s. I’m the first one to get it so young.”
She still has RA, but before her first visit to OSC, Beverly would never have dared imagine the life she’s living today. “Everything is working, and I feel really good. I’m so thankful to Dr. Coleman, not just for getting my shoulder straight, but because he helped me get my ankle fixed. He started it all. I owe him so much.”