Story by: Erica Coghill on January 26, 2018
Terri Kendall’s art takes an incredible amount of strength. She gracefully glides through the air, transitioning from one colorful silk fabric to another — all while suspended dozens of feet off the ground. Kendall relies on no safety equipment to catch her. Instead, she relies on her body — trusting that the muscles in her arms won’t falter as she swings and falls from silk to silk, high above the ground.
Aerial performing is her passion. Being active and working through the challenges of perfecting a new skill and accomplishing something great is what she lives for.
For as long as Kendall can remember, she’s been an athlete.
“I’ve played semi-pro football, ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, men’s hockey and roller hockey,” she said.
When a torn labrum in her shoulder threatened her aerial performances, she felt like her world was collapsing around her.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be alive if I can’t be athletic, because that is who I am,’” Kendall said. “Not to take away from other people’s struggles who are battling tougher things, but it really upsets me to think of not being able to be athletic.”
“I have a high pain tolerance, but I remember realizing something really did not feel right,” Kendall said, recalling the training injury.
The then 48-year-old did some research and found some discouraging data. She read that many people over 40 who have surgical repair of the superior labrum never fully recover. A friend recommended she see Ryan Krupp, M.D., with Norton Orthopedic Specialists.
“Dr. Krupp told me about the surgery — how superior labral repairs are not the best option for people over 40,” Kendall said. “But he assured me that we weren’t out of options.”
Instead, he proposed a biceps tenodesis.
He would cut out a segment of the biceps tendon at the top of her shoulder, where it was pulling on the torn labrum and aggravating the pain. The tendon is then reattached to the humerus farther down the arm bone to maintain the biceps’ strength and range of motion.
For people under 40, fixing the labrum itself still is often recommended. But for those over 40, for whom superior labral repairs haven’t been as successful and the biceps tendon often is part of the disease process, the biceps tenodesis procedure is an alternative.
Kendall considers herself lucky.
“I am so glad I had a doctor who knew it was the best option for me,” Kendall said.
“Older patients who have undergone unsuccessful superior labral repairs previously have also responded well to the biceps tenodesis,” Dr. Krupp said.
After hearing of Kendall’s success, a friend who had experienced an unsuccessful labral repair chose to also head to Dr. Krupp.
Kendall’s outpatient surgery had her in and out of the hospital the same day. She began physical therapy the first week and was back at the gym three weeks after surgery to focus on core movements and cardiovascular exercises. She had to stay off her arm, even during housework, for two months. By month three, she was back to aerial performing.
The physical pain wasn’t bad, according to Kendall, but the emotional strain of not knowing whether she’d be able to continue pursuing her passion was difficult.
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“If you knew me a year ago, it was a dark time. I was depressed, because my body is used to training all the time, and I couldn’t do that,” Kendall said. “I sunk downward and I didn’t want to be alive.”
Dr. Krupp and his physician assistant, Jason Hupp, provided her with clinical help and emotional support.
“They stayed positive and knew how to handle me emotionally,” Kendall said. “They were so good at that — very empathetic and really understood what it’s like to be an athlete with an injury. That was very calming.”
Dr. Krupp encouraged her along the way.
“She was in such good physical shape, there was no reason she wouldn’t be able to come back 100 percent,” Dr. Krupp said.
Dr. Krupp helped give Kendall the confidence she needed to keep working to achieve her goal. She stayed the course: physical therapy exercises four times a week and pushing herself a little more each day.
Kendall’s first day back to training was the defining moment. She climbed the silk about 15 feet in the air, inverted and slid down, like she hadn’t missed a beat. Finally, she was back to what she loved doing, except this time she was doing it pain-free.
“My main takeaway is that it is key to stay positive — plan for the best outcome. The doctors really helped me get to that state of mind,” Kendall said.
Now, about one year after her surgery, Kendall celebrated her 50th birthday with a special aerial performance. She doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
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