Upstate Orthopedics has a long legacy of providing exceptional care for all patients. We have supported our patients through their medical journey – short or long – to become the happy, healthy individuals they are today.
Here are some patients that were happy to share their journey with you.
“Turn your scars into stars.” -Robert H. Schuller
Two days after completing the IRONMAN 70.3 Syracuse, I went to Upstate Orthopedics for an appointment with Ryan Bowser, PA. I was diagnosed with a fracture of one of the sesamoid bones in my left foot. Ryan put me in a walking boot that day and referred me to Dan DeMartini, PA, who specializes in lower extremity injuries.
A week later when I met with Dan, he put me on a complete non-weight-bearing restriction for my left foot. Dan told me that the risk of displacing this fracture was high, and that if I did displace it, I would need reconstructive surgery on my foot that involved removing the sesamoid bone (and therefore never be able to run again). This injury also put me on disability at work (I was employed as a Nuclear Security Officer at Nine Mile Point, and my position required me to be able to run).
During the summer of 2015, I obeyed all of my medical restrictions, and my foot healed. In fact, when I had an X-ray in July 2015, Dan couldn’t see any sign of the original fracture and questioned whether the original X-ray and MRI had been read incorrectly (they hadn’t been read incorrectly; my compliance led to this fracture healing faster than he expected). Expecting to clear me 100% from this injury in early October 2015, Dan had me start off doing light weight-bearing activities (such as cycling and walking around the mall in my work boots to simulate what I would have to do at work), and he cleared me to run again starting on September 18, 2015, when my custom orthotics arrived. I ran one mile that day and then went on a bike ride with friends. I never made it back from that ride; I crashed and sustained an open, compound fracture to the radius and ulna of my left arm.
When I crashed, my left wrist was at my left elbow, my ulna was sticking out, and I was losing a decent amount of blood. I asked the paramedics to transport me to Upstate University Hospital. I was taken in as a trauma patient, and though I had hit my head at approximately 18.5 mph, my helmet saved my brain and my life; the only major injury I had was the broken left arm. The trauma team told me that although my fracture was rather extraordinary (so much so that they asked me for permission to take photos of it), they would be able to surgically repair the fractures. They “straightened” out my arm as best they could with traction (which wasn’t incredibly straight since it was so out of whack) and set me up for emergency surgery.
When I was taken to the operating room, I met Dr. Emil Azer. He told me he would be giving my arm the “best stabilization possible” and that it would be through metal pieces inside my arm. The last thing I remember is seeing a giant X-Ray of my broken arm on a digital monitor in the operating room. I woke up several hours later with what I would soon start calling Vader Arm, since it reminds me of when Anakin Skywalker destroyed his arm in Star Wars and had it revamped as he became Darth Vader.
The morning after I had surgery, a member of the surgical team came to my room to check on me and told me that things had gone well in surgery, but that I had sustained segmental loss to my ulna. He told me that I might end up needing a bone graft one day, but that it was a small enough piece that was missing, and I was young enough that they felt that I had a good shot at bridging the gap in the bone on my own. I ended up staying at Upstate Hospital for a total of two nights, and the care I received was phenomenal. Everyone who I interacted with - the trauma team, the surgical team, the nursing staff, the staff on Floor 7A - was outstanding I am vegan, and this was accommodated for without question for all my meals, which is something that I honestly didn’t expect. All of this made a stressful time in my life feel like so much less of a burden. I’ll always be grateful to everyone who helped me in those first few days.
All in all, I missed eight months of work due to breaking my arm (and 11 total months since I broke my foot). “Mundane” daily tasks such as cooking, opening jars, opening bags of chips, driving (and especially backing up a car), washing my hair, doing laundry, and grocery shopping have all been things that have turned into challenges that I’ve either had to relearn how to do or find a modified way to do them. My hand/arm doesn’t always respond to my neurological commands, and the top of my hand and fingers is always numb. With time, it’s possible that these symptoms will lessen, but for now, they remain a part of my daily life.
However, twelve weeks after surgery, Dr. Azer determined that my ulna was not healing. My radius was making progress (albeit slowly), but my ulna remained unchanged since September. I was also having issues with pronation and with nerve pain; Dr. Azer told me that he was at his limit for how he could help me and that he would have to refer me to one of his colleagues. He referred me to Dr. Joshua Pletka, who took over my care at the end of December 2015. Dr. Pletka diagnosed my injury as a non-union fracture in March 2016, and after I had a nerve conduction test done in that same month, I was also diagnosed with lesions on my left median and anterior interosseous nerves. He told me that I would need surgery to attempt to fix the non-union fracture. We had a candid conversation about what that would mean, and he told me that it was not medically necessary for me to have surgery immediately.
In summer 2016, friends of mine strongly recommended that I switch surgeons to Dr. Brian Harley. One of these friends is Dr. Michael Nancollas, who used to work at Upstate and trained Dr. Harley many years ago. I trusted my friends, and asked Dr. Harley to take me on as a patient, which he agreed to do. I started seeing Dr. Harley in October 2016, and I immediately trusted him. Though I could tell that he cared about my case, he didn’t mince words with me and was exceptionally direct. That approach works well with me, so I knew that Dr. Harley was the right doctor for me.
At my first appointment with Dr. Harley, he told me that he couldn’t 100% tell if my ulna was not healed from the X-rays and CT scans I had had, but that he would need to go in and physically see it to make a final determination. He felt a less invasive procedure where he would harvest some bone from the proximal end of my elbow would be sufficient to fix the non-union if it needed a repair. On November 17, 2016, I had outpatient surgery at the Upstate Orthopedics Bone & Joint Center. Dr. Harley told me that there had been some gel-like material in between the bones, but that he cut it away, caused the bone to bleed again, inserted the bone graft, put in a new plate and screws, and sewed me up. He said that this procedure had an 80-90% success rate and that we would know in 3-6 months if it worked. And thus, Vader Arm 2.0 was born.
Dr. Harley was more restrictive this time around, and I wasn’t allowed to do much other than run for the first 12 weeks of my recovery. In January 2017, I was certain that something was wrong; my arm felt “off” and was getting worse. X-rays taken in February 2017 confirmed that my ulna was not healing. My arm got progressively worse, and by late March/early April 2017, it was clicking every time I tried to use it and was incredibly painful. When I saw Dr. Harley on April 17, 2017, he confirmed that the hardware had failed and was dislodging from the bone (hence the clicking I was feeling) and that the bone was splintering (which reclassified my diagnosis as a comminuted fracture). He told me that I needed surgery as soon as possible to fix this, that it would be a much more invasive procedure with a longer recovery this time around, and that I would need to be hospitalized for it.
Surgery was scheduled for May 12, 2017, at Community General Hospital. During those final three weeks with Vader 2.0, my arm got to be so bad that I was looking forward to the surgery. When I arrived at Community General on May 12, I met the team of doctors that would be assisting with the surgery. One of my anesthesiologists, Dr. Catania, had a great personality, kept things light, and let me watch on ultrasound as he injected my brachial-plexus nerve complex with a nerve block. I found the entire thing fascinating. In surgery, Dr. Harley harvested three inches of bone from my left iliac crest and dovetailed it to put it into my arm (basically carving it into a “T” shape that resembles a Tetris piece). He also put in a locking plate that was much larger than its predecessors along with 12 locking screws. I spent the night in the hospital figuring out how best to exist with Vader Arm 3.0 (also known as Vader Tetris) and Jetfire the Hip (so named after a Transformer who donates his parts to Optimus Prime, he can have a “power [he’s] never known”).
The day after my surgery, which was a Saturday, I was completely shocked when Dr. Harley walked into my room. Knowing that there weren’t any other patients on the floor, I knew that I had to be his only patient there that day. Despite this, he still took time out of his Saturday to come and check on me. I remember thanking him for helping me and telling him that he was an excellent surgeon. His confidence and decisiveness with my case gave me confidence in his ability to help me, and out of everyone who I had interacted with thus far in this journey, he was the person I trusted most. I never second-guessed his plan of action or recommended course of treatment for me. The peace that comes from that is something that I cannot fully articulate in words, and I will always be thankful to him for making a stressful time in my life feel so much more peaceful.
Dr. Harley kept me on a 100% non-use restriction for my left arm for the first 12 weeks after he created Vader 3.0. I saw Dr. Harley every 4-6 weeks during that timeframe to check in and see how my arm was progressing. On October 27, 2017, I had a follow-up appointment to check on the status of Vader 3.0. Dr. Harley confirmed that my ulna had finally healed. 110 weeks to the day after I initially broke my arm, Dr. Harley said I could resume all my normal activities.
For two years, one month, and nine days, I accepted that I had a broken arm. While I trusted my medical team and I did everything I could to help it heal, I never allowed myself to count my chickens before they hatched, especially once my diagnosis changed to a non-union fracture. I put all of my faith in Dr. Harley, and I trusted that he would do the very best he could for me. And he did. Because of him, I have an almost fully functional left arm, which is more than I ever thought I’d have.
I will be grateful to Dr. Harley for the rest of my life.
When Kristen was 5 years old, we took her to the pediatrician’s office for a sore throat. While there, they noticed one hip was higher than the other, so they promptly checked her back because they suspected scoliosis. We were then sent to one of our local hospitals for X-rays, which confirmed scoliosis, and after a talk with our pediatrician, he gave us a subsequent referral to the Syracuse hospital.
Kristen’s first appointment in Syracuse was for a couple of MRIs, and for a 5-year-old, that’s pretty scary. However, she was such a trooper and never moved during the MRIs. In fact, the technician said she was the best patient he ever had! Well, the MRI revealed that Kristen had Chiari Malformation and after speaking with the doctor, he told us that Kristen needed skull surgery to fix the problem. Apparently, where her brain stem and spinal cord met, there was not enough room for the spinal fluid to recirculate back up to the brain, so it was accumulating in her spine like a slow-filling balloon. They had to make the hole/entry point in her skull larger to accommodate the fluid. The morning of her surgery was the scariest moment of our lives, but the staff at the hospital made everything easier to deal with and Kristen’s surgery went fine. Two weeks later, she was jumping off the couch again!
Flash forward a year and several checkups later. Although the skull surgery was a success, Kristen’s back wasn’t getting better, so we were referred to Dr. Kathryn Palomino at Upstate Orthopedics. On March 5, 2010, Kristen was fitted with her first back brace to help manage her scoliosis. The hope was to keep the scoliosis from getting worse. Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell a kid to keep a back brace on for 18-20 hours a day? Her biggest fear was that her friends would make fun of her because of the brace, even though she wore it under her clothes, and you couldn’t see it. Her friends were great and even helped her, but there were a couple of kids she still worried about. So, to ease her worries, I wrote a little book explaining what scoliosis was, including a picture of her X-ray and several pictures of celebrities with scoliosis. I then took this book to school and read it to Kristen’s 2nd grade classmates. The book helped the kids understand what Kristen was going through, and at the end, we had every child try on Kristen’s back brace, so they understood what she was going through. It was the best thing we could have done, because it helped other kids understand the problem of scoliosis.
For the next four years, Kristen went through several back braces as she grew. Unfortunately, her growth spurts are what made the scoliosis worse. On January 23, Kristen received devastating news that she needed back surgery because her back was now at a 53-degree curvature. When we had additional X-rays in May, only four months later, her back had gotten worse, progressing to a 65-degree curvature.
One the morning of July 7th, we traveled to Golisano Children’s Hospital for surgery. We also decided to have her back ribs “shaved” due to the malformation (or better called a “hump”) that had occurred from the years of scoliosis. We were originally told the surgery could take up to 8 hours. We were shocked when they called us after 4 ½ hours that they were done with her surgery! Everything went fine! The hospital staff had her up and walking the next day and could not believe her determination and rate of recovery. While she was at home recovering, she did take the time to enjoy her other hobbies of crafts, drawing, light swimming, and hanging out with her friends.
Kristen’s most recent appointment with Dr. Palomino on August 4, 2015 was the best appointment ever! Not only was her back healing fine, but her ribs are growing back nicely and to top it off, Kristen was cleared to play sports! On the way home, we bought Kristen a new pair of running sneakers because she couldn’t wait to go out for track! We’ve never been so happy to see our daughter run again, play, and be free from the holds of scoliosis.
We never could have gotten through this without the help, patience, and expertise of Dr. Palomino and the staff at Upstate Orthopedics. Kristen likes Dr. Palomino because she took the time to talk to her, didn’t rush her, and made her feel like she really mattered. As parents, we like Dr. Palomino because she was honest, patient, intelligent, and selfless. She never spoke down to us like a lot of doctors often do. Dr. Palomino has her own teenage son, but still took the time to stop to see Kristen at the hospital at 7:30 pm. Dr. Palomino saved our daughter from an uncertain future, and we will never be able to repay her for that. From the bottom of our heart, thank you so much Dr. Palomino.
Kristen is enjoying the good life now! Jump for joy and run, Forrest, run!
Scott was in a household accident when he was 2-1/2, and he lost his right arm. During one of the most unimaginable times in their family's life, Scott's mother Jennifer was comforted by Upstate Orthopedics. "You know a practice by how people represent that office, and there was never a moment where we were talked to like there wasn't time for us. The staff, nurses, and Dr. Harley were beyond amazing. Sporting a smile, a mile wide, there isn't anything Scott can't do or try now, and it's because of the expertise and attention from Upstate Orthopedics."
Stefania is a Polish immigrant who brought her daughter to America for a chance at a great education, and that chance almost had to be sacrificed when Stefania became debilitated. "Other doctors told us that nothing could be done," her daughter Ewa shares. "Dr. Scerpella, from the very first visit, confidently instilled hope and made a connection with us. She promised us that we'd get through it and that my mom would get better. And she did - better physically for sure, but above all, this proud, independent woman is better emotionally."
Sara was only 12 when her arm was severed in a farming accident. The local doctors claimed it couldn't be saved, but her mother pushed and got Sara to Upstate, nearly 3 hours away. After a 14-1/2-hour surgery by Dr. Loftus, her arm was reattached.
Some of her peers picked on her once she was well enough to return to school after the accident, but she paid them no mind and considered her scars "beauty scars." "Everything happens for a reason," she’d say with a bright smile and a positive attitude.
Now seeing Sara years into recovery holding her newborn son in the very arm that others said couldn't be saved...well, there's one reason right there. Without Upstate Orthopedics, it would not have been possible.
Mike Felice played lacrosse for SUNY Cortland and was part of the 2006 National Championship team. (Below you'll see him scoring the winning goal!) Dr. Cannizzaro from Upstate Orthopedics was the team physician for the entire four years Mike was at Cortland and saw him through many injuries. "Knee, ankle, a couple concussions – you name it!" Mike laughs. Dr. Cannizzaro performed Mike's ACL surgery right after college and helped him realize that he didn't need to rush his recovery – he needed to put things in perspective, take care of himself, and get better properly.
"Upstate Orthopedics is completely different. I don't go in and feel like they're just there to see me and throw me out the door, like other places I've been to. There's this CONNECTION here. They don't just focus on what's wrong, they want to know about who you ARE. And to an athlete – or any patient – that means everything."
Meghan Page had knee surgery at Upstate Orthopedics when she was a teenager. Now on her feet all day as a nurse, she can't help but wonder if it would have been possible without the excellent care she received.
Jake Halter was 12 when his knees started locking up. His time as a baseball catcher came to a halt due to the excruciating periods of pain and immobility and a fear of physical activity. After surgery at Upstate Orthopedics, he was finally able to "not think about it and just DO."
Looking to join our extensive community of satisfied patients? To learn more about our practice in Syracuse, New York, please call us at (315) 464-4472. We hope to hear from you and welcome you to our wonderful community.