Veteran Shares Journey with Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Posted on 
November 10, 2023

Within 36 hours of shoulder replacement surgery, U.S. Army veteran Biane Kidwell could tell the procedure had been successful.

“There was a distinct difference between the shoulder pain I had for years and the post-op pain,” says Kidwell, a former paratrooper. “The pain I’d been living with was completely gone.”

As significant as a successful outcome was, being seen and heard by the surgeon who performed it was equally so.

Forté Specialist Offers Treatment Solution

Kidwell says Forté shoulder and elbow specialist Dr. Michael Bender took her concerns seriously during their first meeting. He didn’t shy away from her complex medical history – which resulted from a decade of military service filled with injuries and traumas.

“He did not offer the two demoralizing and insulting responses I most often receive from doctors, which are, ‘You can live with it,” and ‘Nothing’s wrong. You’re just an anxious woman,’” says Kidwell.

Instead, Bender performed a thorough exam of her left shoulder, reviewed prior tests and offered Kidwell a treatment solution – reverse shoulder replacement surgery. Reverse shoulder replacement involves switching the placement of the ball and socket implants. It is an effective option for patients like Kidwell who have had multiple rotator cuff injuries and surgeries.

Respect and Kindness for Patients with PTSD

Kidwell agreed to the surgery, but she knew there would be challenges to her surgical experience.

She has complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD, and can experience traumatizing flashbacks as she awakens from surgery.

“More than 50 surgeries have taught me the best strategies to handle these flashbacks, so prior to surgery, I share them with my surgeon and anesthesiologist,” says Kidwell. “They include using my first name and telling me I’m safe.”

After surgery, Kidwell’s shoulder was wrapped in a shoulder sling and ice wrap that enveloped her entire shoulder, front and back. She says she felt trapped as she started to wake up, which caused a panic attack and then a distressing flashback.

“I panicked and tried to remove the sling and ice wrap,” says Kidwell. “I tried to get out of bed, thinking I needed to escape, and suddenly, Dr. Bender was there.”

“What broke through the fear and panic was his calm manner, respect and kindness,” she continues. “There was zero recrimination – no yelling at me to calm down. He swiftly removed the sling and ice wrap, all the while talking to me gently and telling me I was safe.”

Kidwell says the C-PTSD-fueled panic attack and flashback receded within minutes.

“I cannot adequately express how unusual his response was,” says Kidwell. “In my experience, most medical personnel bark at you to ‘Just calm down!’”

Kidwell says she highly recommends Bender for his surgical skill, caring demeanor and ability to handle PTSD-triggered reactions post-surgery.

Looking to the Future from a Place of Gratitude

Kidwell is four months into her recovery and says Dr. Bender’s work has greatly improved her quality of life.

“I can now reach above my head into a cabinet, do yoga within current physical therapy guidelines and flip down the sun visor while driving,” says Kidwell. “It all seems so simple, but it matters.”

The former paratrooper is nearing the end of PT and setting new goals, such as skydiving again if given the okay by her doctors, gardening and returning to daily hiking. She is also considering a return to work as a patient advocate, a job she held in the past.

As Kidwell looks to the future, she’s doing so from a place of deep gratitude and renewed hope.

“When we encounter people who treat us with dignity, respect and kindness, we need to speak up and say thank you,” she says. “I am thankful Dr. Bender accepted me as a patient. He chose to say, ‘I think this can be fixed,’ and then he did just that.”

As of publication, U.S. Army veteran Biane Kidwell is four months into her recovery from reverse shoulder replacement on her left shoulder. She is also recovering after receiving VA approval for a procedure on her right shoulder, also performed by Dr. Bender.

To learn more about Forté’s joint replacement offerings, visit forteortho.com. To schedule a consultation with one of Forté’s joint replacement specialists, call 317.817.1200.

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