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David: Dual Rotator Cuff Recovery

David Kukleski

A Personal and Professional Passion

For as long as he can recall, David has been heavily involved in the sports world.

Nearly 25 years ago, he turned his personal passion for sports into a professional one at a well-known racquet sports company. Today, David is an international businessman at that same company. He spreads his passion worldwide for pickleball, one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States.

“Being in this line of work means that I have to be a participant. My job requires me to play sports, plus represent the company,” David said.

But, the heavily active lifestyle so important to David took a toll on his shoulders. He had pushed both rotator cuffs to the point of immense pain and weakness — a common injury in racquet sports.

His right shoulder hurt so much at one point he couldn’t even hold up something as light as a coffee cup.

“From constant and regular weight resistance training, I had worn my shoulders down. By the time I had reached this point, I had already gone way too far,” said David.

It became clear that it was time to do something about it.

"He literally took out a pen, drew a diagram on the exam table paper, and said 'This is, generically, how it needs to be done.' I remember thinking, 'I'm in the right place and with the right person. I'm in good hands.'" — David

The Search for Shoulder Experts

David made an appointment for a shoulder exam at another health system where doctors first diagnosed him.

Determined to have his lifestyle back, David was willing to travel anywhere to seek treatment. His grit led him to search the internet for sports medicine shoulder experts.

David's search, in turn, led him to UPMC Sports Medicine and Albert Lin, MD.

David described his first appointment with Dr. Lin as a moment he'll never forget: “He literally took out a pen, drew a diagram on the exam table paper, and said, ‘This is, generically, how it needs to be done.’ I remember looking at that and thinking, ‘I’m in the right place with the right person. I’m in good hands.’”

Dr. Lin often uses creative ways to explain his diagnoses and surgical plans to increase patient understanding and comfort.

He did nothing less for David.

“It was something very archaic, with all of this technology, but that's how he needed to communicate it to me,” David said.

Dr. Lin knew the extent of damage in both of David’s shoulders. Over the next few years, he performed two surgeries to repair them — one on each shoulder.

David then needed distal biceps surgery to repair a torn tendon at the elbow, for a total of three surgeries.

David expressed that Dr. Lin fully prepared him for what was to come.

Three Successful Surgeries

In 2013, Dr. Lin did an arthroscopic rotator cuff repair on David’s right shoulder — the more severe of the two. A year later, in 2014, he did the same surgery on David's left shoulder, which was less severe but still badly damaged.

Finally, after two rotator cuff repairs and recoveries, Dr. Lin repaired David's elbow tendon to fully restore his arm function.

After his first surgery, David was eager to complete the three- to six- month post-op period as fast as possible.

“In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘I’ll reduce the time by half.’ That was just my ego talking,” David said.

In the end, he closely followed the post-op rehab plan with the encouragement of Dr. Lin and persistence of his physical therapist.

Tom O’Malley, PT, at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute: Monroeville – Corporate One, helped David make a full recovery. He designed a custom rehab plan and safely returned David to his active lifestyle.

“To this day, I'm so thankful for following Tom's plan as outlined, because I believe that was the key. Beyond the procedures, I think following the post-op plan was the biggest part of my success with both operations,” said David.

‘The Forrest Gump of Woodland Hills’

After his surgeries, David’s mental health became just as vital as the physical. To avoid becoming lazy as he healed, David walked the roads of the Woodland Hills area twice a day.

“During this rehab time, it was common to see me out there walking. My arm was in a sling with a pillow, so people would be going by just beeping the horn. Many people who didn’t know me came to know me just from seeing me on this regular walking routine for months. The community quickly came to know me as the ‘Forrest Gump of Woodland Hills.’”

Having gone through three surgeries in about three years, David had only great things to say about Dr. Lin and his experience.

From giving David his cell phone number to exemplifying the patient-doctor relationship, Dr. Lin made David feel at ease from day one. He says he’d recommend Dr. Lin to “anyone and everyone.”

Advice for Healing After Shoulder Surgery

When asked what advice he’d give to others suffering from rotator cuff pain, David stressed trusting your doctor and physical therapist. And following their post-op rehab plan to a T.

David shared that he's stayed in touch with Dr. Lin. He also said that he can’t remember his right shoulder ever feeling better than it has since that first surgery.

“My shoulders are beyond 100 percent compared to the way they were,” he said.