Patient Stories | Jack and Elbow Surgery

Jack's Story: You Can’t Keep a Good Drummer Down

Jack Rohrer plays drums during high school football games, in music competitions and at community fundraisers. He plays in a band with friends, and plays by himself to blow off steam. Drumming is a passion that has taken Jack to California to perform in the Tournament of Roses Parade, and guides his thinking as he considers his college options. It’s also the one activity he feared he would have to give up because of an unusual injury to his left elbow.

Jack ‘s elbow problems began on the day he was born, when the obstetrician realized that his shoulders were too wide for the birth canal. “The doctor had to deliver him quickly to avoid oxygen deprivation,” says Jack’s mom, Anna. “That meant twisting his left arm and pulling, which caused some nerve damage. His arm lacked muscle tone at first, and didn’t work properly until he was about a year old.”

After that, Jack’s arm seemed to develop normally, although he dislocated his left elbow in first grade and broke the same arm in third, each time receiving care at Cincinnati Children’s. But in the fall of his eighth grade year, Jack began to experience a nagging problem when he played the drums and at other times, too. “My elbow joint would sort of lock up, and I’d have to fool around with it to get it to work,” says Jack. “My parents took me to Cincinnati Children’s to meet with a specialist. I didn’t feel very concerned until the doctor started explaining what he thought was going on.”

A joint problem 

Jack and his parents met with Shital Parikh, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine. Dr. Parikh asked a lot of questions about Jack’s health history, examined the elbow and ordered X-rays. Piecing together all of the clues, he surmised that Jack’s elbow had been dislocated at birth and had remained slightly out of joint over the years. Dr. Parikh added that there were tiny bone fragments floating in Jack’s elbow, possibly caused by the bones in his elbow rubbing against each another awkwardly.

 Dr. Parikh recommended surgery to remove the bone fragments and reposition the elbow and ulnar nerve. He cautioned the Rohrers that the elbow would not go back into the joint perfectly, but explained that the surgery, followed by physical therapy, would help Jack achieve “about 95 percent” of the mobility and range of motion necessary for normal life. Dr. Parikh added that reconstructive surgery would be the only way to get the elbow back into joint; that could be an option for Jack once he stopped growing. 

Worries about the future 

As expected after such a surgery, Jack’s wrist, elbow and forearm were weak and stiff during the initial postoperative phase. “I couldn’t play the drums or do much with that arm at all,” Jack says. “I kept thinking, ‘Am I going to be able to play again? Is my left arm always going to be a lot weaker than my right?’ But after a while I could use my arm as it got stronger with physical therapy.”

Jack worked with rehabilitation therapists at Cincinnati Children’s for several weeks to regain his mobility and strength. Within a few months, he was playing drums in concert band again, and by high school began pursuing every drumming opportunity he could, including playing in the Lakota West High School marching band, jazz band and a jazz combo. He plans to continue playing as a college student, perhaps minoring in music while he works toward a career in journalism.

Jack says his left arm isn’t quite as flexible as his right one, and he occasionally wonders whether he will some day need a reconstructive surgery. But when Jack plays drums, whether in the basement with his friends or at a football game, none of that seems to matter. He’s simply a kid who is passionate about his music, determined not to let anything stand in his way.