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Surgeons Get Surgery Too! A Physician’s ACL Reconstruction Story

Dr. Joey Papa is recovering from arthroscopic ACL repair with the help of HSS sports medicine surgeon Dr. Karen Sutton and Justin Clark, site manager of HSS Sports Rehab at Chelsea Piers Connecticut. Photo Credit: Contributed
Dr. Joey Papa, a general surgeon at Stamford Health, underwent surgery at HSS Orthopedics at Stamford Health by Dr. Karen Sutton, sports medicine surgeon. Photo Credit: Contributed

It all happened so fast...I recently tore my ACL in our resident faculty annual soccer match on the turf at Chelsea Piers. You know when cartoon characters see stars? I saw stars! It was an immediate, searing, popping pain that literally dropped me to the ground. I knew something was wrong as soon as I injured it — I just wasn’t sure what. As a typical physician, I wrapped it with an ACE wrap, took Motrin and tried to grin and bear it. After a week, it was still swollen and painful and I was not able to put weight on it. I figured it might be something more serious than a sprain or strain, and realized I should probably seek an expert’s opinion.

It was great to have the inside scoop! I asked my fellow nurses, anesthesiologists and other physicians for their recommendation on a surgeon and HSS sports medicine surgeon Dr. Karen Sutton’s name came up multiple times. As a fellow female surgeon, I respect the amount of time and dedication needed to develop a surgical career. I know how difficult it can be and especially how female surgeons often have to work harder to attain a higher level of esteem than our male counterparts (sorry, guys!). Dr. Sutton is highly respected, runs triathlons and has four children, all while maintaining a career.

My husband found an article in which Dr. Sutton had been interviewed where her responses reflected a personality similar to my own. Additionally, I thought as a surgeon undergoing surgery that it was very comforting to know that Dr. Sutton and I were so like-minded.

On the day of surgery, it hit me: what was my recovery going to be like? How I was going to feel afterward? I was initially excited about a leave from work and looked forward to a month home with my two children. After the fact, I was surprised at my inability to do a lot of things that I thought I was going to do with my extra time off.

My arthroscopic ACL repair surgery went really well at Stamford Health's Tully Health Center, where all the nurses and ancillary staff are really fantastic. They bend over backwards for the patient. It was interesting to see it from the opposite perspective, not as an employee but as a patient. The staff treats everyone with such kindness, compassion and respect.

The recovery was more difficult than anticipated. Learning how to navigate life with a brace was challenging. Random, simple things, like taking the stairs, became more time-consuming. I didn’t realize how much energy it was going to take to recover and heal. When you’re a highly active, type A personality, you tend to be overactive. I had to learn to slow down and listen to my body and take the time to be quiet, calm and rest. When I did, I felt much better.

Physical therapy is so instrumental in the recovery process. You’re seeing your physical therapist often, maybe 2-3 times a week, which is more frequent than you’d see your surgeon for follow-up care. I would definitely not be back at work and feeling as well as I am without the help of Justin Clark, the site manager of HSS Sports Rehab at Chelsea Piers Connecticut. I started physical therapy within a few days of my surgery and am currently going multiple times a week. Justin has such a good heart and sense of humor — he even showed up the day of my surgery and stayed late to make sure he could see me in person before I was discharged from the recovery room.

I’m excited for simple things like going back to the gym, especially the yoga and barre classes I was doing regularly beforehand. My kids were so sweet and understanding of Mom being out of commission this summer, I look forward to running around more with them again. I look forward to not worrying about putting on heels in the morning and to not have pain walking up and down the stairs. It will be good to be back to regular life!

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