Dori Schmalzle isn’t the kind of person who lets pain stop her. Having lived with psoriatic arthritis for the past 14 years, she’s used to managing discomfort. And as a former registered nurse who managed the orthopedic ski injury clinic at Park City Mountain Resort for 16 years, Dori is also no stranger to orthopedic injury.
So when the 63-year-old started feeling pain in her right shoulder the fall of 2021, she thought the solution would be fairly simple.
I try really hard not to let these episodes interfere with my life.
A steroid shot got her back to her golf game, but then — suddenly — the pain got dramatically worse. And radiated to her thumb. Schmalzle, who worked at University of Utah Health for more than 30 years, felt like her shoulder was falling out of the socket.
An MRI revealed her cartilage had disappeared and the humeral bone was damaged. Shoulder replacement surgery didn’t totally take the pain away, leading to more medical appointments that determined she had decreased nerve signal to her arm. Doctors now wondered whether Schmalzle’s neck was the source of her problems.
With pain so intense she couldn’t even move her arm, Schmalzle soon ended up at Alpine Sports Physical Therapy in Park City, which is part of University of Utah Health.
Janna Mann and another physical therapist, Jenn Pine, worked closely with Schmalzle in an evolving treatment plan that best fit her needs.
“Dori is a complicated case with a complex recovery,” Mann explained.
Schmalzle still couldn’t move her arm, so they moved it for her, helping to increase her range of motion.
I can’t say enough about the two of them. They have such positive attitudes. I’ve had a lot of setbacks and the two of them just kept going.
Neck surgery added more challenges. Schmalzle couldn’t bend, twist or lean her head down for six weeks.
But she kept going to physical therapy. Thanks to generous insurance coverage, she had her 81st appointment at Alpine Sports this December.
When she walks in, employees call out her name.
“It feels like I’m on [the TV show] ‘Cheers,’” she said. “They welcome me. They don’t make me feel like: what are you doing here again?”
For Schmalzle, going to PT has turned into something like a job, a job she looks forward to. Twice a week, she has the 1 pm slot.
Mann and Schmalzle have grown close after so much time together. They share funny stories about their kids or shows on TV.
“I feel like she’s become part of my life,” Schmalzle said.
What makes her stand out as a patient for Mann is her patience.
“She has worked so hard,” the physical therapist said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a patient that has worked as hard as she has.”
And Schmalzle has a new reason to get better. The day she had neck surgery was the same day her first grandchild came home from the hospital.
“I wanted to be able to hold my grandson,” Schmalzle said.
When she started PT after shoulder surgery, she couldn’t lift her arm at all. Now the former nurse can raise her hand over her head five times before her shoulder becomes tired and painful. Her treatments are now focused on strengthening and getting back to her desired activities. The thumb pain ebbs and flows.
That’s the piece that keeps me going. I want to ski with him. I want to play with him. It’s not OK that my arm doesn’t work all the way.
She talks with Mann about what she hopes to do once she’s healed — even though sometimes she can’t sleep at night because of the pain. She often sums up her mindset about physical therapy in a few words:
“I’m not done yet.”
Written by Pulse News Contributer Julia Lyon