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Tom Scoville

Back on Track After Multiple Surgeries

By Kim Wong

Tom Scoville knows a thing or two about orthopedic surgery. This 62-year-old osteoarthritis sufferer has endured 19 joint-related surgeries over 15 years. He has undergone total knee, shoulder replacements as well as had his lumbar spine surgically fused.

Most of his surgeries took place on the East Coast where he lives in Washington, D.C. But for two of the most demanding operations, he flew across the country to UCSF Medical Center. The distance he traveled was well worth the trip. "In both cases," says Scoville, "the results have been outstanding."

In December 1997, as a result of an earlier major disc rupture in his lumbar spine, Scoville underwent extensive spinal fusion surgery at UCSF. Prior to this surgery, Scoville had back surgery elsewhere and suffered through chronic pain and used crutches for more than a year. After numerous consultations with physicians and visits to two highly regarded medical centers in the United States, Scoville sought the help of UCSF spine surgeon Dr. David Bradford.

"I heard about Dr. Bradford from a friend," says Scoville. "Instantly, from my first consultation, I knew that I had found a surgeon I could trust with one of the most difficult operations for any surgeon to perform with complete success — a multi-level lumbar spinal fusion with instrumentation."

Scoville's second orthopedic surgery at UCSF took place in November 2004 with Dr. Michael Ries. "This was to revise both of my previous total knee replacements," says Scoville. "Both kneecaps had substantial bone deterioration leading to several fractures in each and they were floating loosely in the knee area."

Unlike most patients, Scoville wanted to watch his knee surgery. He had an epidural rather than general anesthesia but asked for no sleep inducing sedatives. "I was able to observe for four hours Dr. Ries and his superb surgical team," says Scoville. "To see such an impressive performance is a privilege not granted to most patients. While most individuals undergoing this type of operation would rather not watch themselves in such a real-life drama or feel squeamish, I found the experience to be immensely reassuring. With every minute, I could know — before my eyes — that I was in the best possible hands."

"Both of my orthopedic surgeons were not only at the top of their fields, but I sensed at once that their entire focus was on me, the patient," adds Scoville. "They gave me time to ask every question I had, despite their busy schedules, reassuring me on the results, and then always following up on ones progress."

What impressed Scoville most about UCSF was the attention from the staff when it came to tiniest of details. "Their pre-operation testing was sensitive to my individual needs and to those of other patients I watched during the testing process," says Scoville. "On both days of the actual surgery, I was put entirely at ease, made as comfortable as possible — down to such a small, but important detail, as supporting my neck properly. During each hospital stay, the nursing care was superb, and pain management was exactly appropriate, anticipating pain, rather than reacting to it."

Scoville used UCSF's Home Health Care services for a month after his knee operation. When he left the hospital the staff made sure he had everything he needed and sent a physical therapist to his hotel. "Anyone who has had a knee replacement knows that the rehabilitation work can be painful," says Scoville. "This UCSF physical therapist got the job done faster and with a greater range of motion for my new knees with far less pain than I would ever have believed possible."

But what Scoville considers one of the most impressive measures of success is how independent a person can be after surgery and rehabilitation. Would he be able to join his family and friends as a participant instead of a bystander? Scoville hoped to continue his passion -- mountain hiking and climbing. "They engage my heart and spirit and keep me young," says Scoville.

Within two weeks after Dr. Bradfords spinal fusion in December 1997, Scoville could walk a mile pain-free and was back to work full-time as a speechwriter and lobbyist in six weeks. In the seven years since, he has climbed, with proper caution, 51 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado with no back pain.

The day before leaving San Francisco to return home after his knee operation, Scoville sent a letter to Dr. Ries and his staff. The note read — "This afternoon, four weeks to the day from my operation, I just walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and back! It was raining, windy and foggy, but I had the sense I could see for miles, as I was so happy that I could walk so well so soon, with little, if any, discomfort. I just wanted to thank you all again for doing such a wonderful job on me, for taking such good care of me."

In early February 2005, less than three months after his knee surgeries, Scoville finished six days of cross-country ski lessons at the Crested Butte Nordic Center in Colorado — as a non-impact way to rehabilitate himself aerobically and strengthening the muscles around his knees. On his way back to the Denver airport, he stopped at the top of Loveland Pass and with the careful use of ski poles for support, hiked up 700-feet further in the snow.

"I was alone at 12,700-feet," remembers Scoville. "It was near zero degrees and bitterly cold but, as evening came, all the nearby mountains turned pink for just a few minutes — a moment fixed forever in my memory. I'm not a super athlete but rather an ordinary person who because of UCSF is still able to pursue a personal passion and even to follow the dreams of 40 years ago."

Story written in March 2005.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Arthritis & Joint Replacement Center
1500 Owens St.
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353–2808
Fax: (415) 885–3862

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