40-year hairdresser back behind the chair after successful reverse shoulder replacement surgery

Shoulder pain slowed a hair stylist down for years, but he put off surgery. At Norton Orthopedic Institute, he discovered technology had improved the procedure.

For 20 years, Michael Rondinelli’s Fridays have come to develop a beautiful repetition.

Around 4:30 p.m., the 64-year-old licensed cosmetologist sets up shop in the salon of The Pendennis Club of Louisville. It’s very “Hemingway” inside — vintage decor, lots of wood built-ins. The salon is small, just two chairs and a large mirror. It sits right outside the club’s dining room, convenient for when a customer needs to kill time before an appointment with a cocktail.

It’s in this small salon where Michael gets to live out his passion, one scissor snip at a time.

“I get to come down here and kind of just hang out with the guys and cut their hair,” Michael said. “It balances me out, and it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it more than anything, to tell you the truth. I just love the camaraderie.”

Michael’s officially been a hairdresser since 1986, when he graduated from Roy’s Beauty School on Dixie Highway. But he’s been cutting hair since he was 16, while still a student at Iroquois High School.

“When I first started it, I liked what happened when I lifted hair up, cut it and let it fall,” Michael said. “Then somebody put a $5 bill in my hand. At age 16, I was looking at that, and that was the hook. I said, ‘You’re going to pay me to do this?’”

It became his life’s work, decades behind the chair. He’s opened and closed salons over the years, and eventually began teaching young hairdressers at Empire Beauty School, sharing the skills necessary to begin their careers. But since 2004, Michael’s been at The Pendennis Club on Fridays, caring for the members who helped him begin his life outside the salon.

“When I first started working, I was apprenticeship teaching, and only making $13,000,” Michael said. “I was engaged to be married at the time, and working at the club allowed me to make the loan for my first home.”

On this particular Friday, Michael’s cutting the hair of his older son, Jared, getting him looking right before the weekend. His hands move smoothly, as though meant for this kind of work.

It’s work that, just a few months ago, Michael was unable to do without excruciating pain.

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‘I put it off and kept working’

It was February 2013.

Michael was on his way out the door, when he slipped on ice and fell on top of his car. His arm bent like a wing. He was immediately in pain, and later was diagnosed with a dislocated right shoulder and a torn rotator cuff.

He visited Ryan J. Krupp, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Norton Orthopedic Institute, who determined Michael needed a shoulder replacement. Michael, however, wasn’t ready to dedicate the time and resources for that extensive of a procedure.

“I was only 55 years old at the time,” Michael said. “So I put it off and kept working. I didn’t want to do [surgery], so I waited and did physical therapy, lightweight exercises. I would just have to stop and rest my arm and go back to it.”

The pain impacted his work dramatically. Michael could only cut hair for two to three minutes before having to stop and shake his arms out. His haircuts began to double in time. He knew he couldn’t go on like this forever.

“It was terrible,” Michael said. “It put me in a bad mood. In my business, time is money. And then I was taking over-the-counter pain medication, which was messing up my body. So it was just something I couldn’t put off any longer.”

‘We had a great plan’

As coincidence would have it, Michael found the answer to his shoulder issues while getting his knees examined.

He was introduced to Joshua J. Christensen, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Norton Orthopedic Institute, who talked to Michael about the possibility of a reverse shoulder replacement. The two of them collaborated on a treatment plan, and Michael finally agreed to have the procedure.

“Typically, a rotator cuff tear is something we see on an MRI,” Dr. Christensen said. “But, when the tear is big enough or has been there for long enough, we can actually see the changes with the ball shifting up the socket on the X-rays. So [in Michael’s case] we already knew his rotator cuff tear was unrepairable. He was having symptoms on a daily basis, symptoms of pain and limited range of motion and strength that were preventing him from doing his job. And so, this was the perfect solution for him in that case.”

On Feb. 6, 2024, Dr. Christensen performed successful reverse shoulder replacement surgery. During the roughly 45-minute procedure, he removed the old shoulder ball, placed a short stem down the center of Michael’s humerus and fixed a new socket to the top of that stem. Where the old socket used to be, Dr. Christensen inserted a base plate with screws and placed the new ball on that site.

This surgery, unlike a conventional shoulder replacement, relies on the deltoid muscle, instead of the rotator cuff, to power and position the arm. It essentially recreates the function of the rotator cuff to allow for better mobility and strength.

Michael went into surgery around 7:30 a.m. and was back in his recliner chair at home by lunchtime.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Christensen’s technique,” Michael said. “We had a great plan before, a great plan during and a great plan after. And it all turned out well.”

“When you meet somebody like [Michael], somebody’s who’s really struggling to do the things they need to do, that is why we get into doing what we do,” Dr. Christensen said. “On an everyday basis, sometimes it’s a tough slog to get through a long day in the operating room. But when you see someone back like him, who’s really doing amazing, it really does make it worth it.”

‘I’ll always be behind the chair’

Michael’s recovery went as smoothly as he had hoped.

He was diligent about icing his arm. After one week at home, he began walking 3 to 5 miles a day. It helped him lose almost 15 pounds after surgery. After just six weeks, he was back at work.

Now four months after his procedure, Michael’s life has returned to normal, and he’s cutting hair like he did when he was 16.

“I just did a full highlight and a haircut in my salon and knocked it out in 48 minutes,” Michael said. “I did it like I used to do.”

He’s thankful to be back at The Pendennis Club on Fridays, in his rightful place behind the chair of the old salon. He’s thankful for the clientele supporting him through his recovery. And, he’s thankful for his new shoulder and the man who created it.

“You’ve got to be here because you want to be here. It can look like a glamorous job, but it’s hard work,” Michael said. “[The surgery] was everything. I like to say I’m going to live ’til 100 years old. And eventually, I’ll retire from teaching, but I’ll always be behind the chair. I enjoy doing this so much; it’s who I am.”

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