Learn about real-life experiences
from Tri Rivers patients
“You’re going to need two new shoulders in your lifetime. Yours are completely shot.”
Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of these words, especially not an athlete with 50 years of experience under his belt. But it’s exactly what Sam Pompelia heard from Robert Waltrip, MD, a Tri Rivers orthopedic sports medicine and shoulder surgeon.
Sam has played American 4-Wall handball competitively for the past five decades. About six months before he heard the news from Dr. Waltrip, Sam started experiencing shoulder pain. It became difficult to sleep, and the discomfort began to distract Sam from playing his favorite sport. Thinking it was simply his rheumatoid arthritis, Sam visited a doctor, who told him this was much more serious. The doctor suggested that Sam visit an orthopedic surgeon, and after doing some research, a friend told him about Dr. Waltrip.
When Sam met with Dr. Waltrip for the first time, he was extremely pleased. Despite hearing unsettling news, he knew he had found the right surgeon for the job.
“All doctors look good on paper,” Sam said, “but what impressed me about Dr. Waltrip was his passion for his profession. He talked to my wife and me for 20 minutes about my shoulder and how everything was going to be great. I walked out of the office, turned to my wife and said, ‘That’s the guy for me. Anybody with that much passion…I like it.’”
Dr. Waltrip successfully performed the first of Sam’s two total shoulder replacement surgeries in February 2017. Although Sam was thrilled about becoming pain-free in one of his shoulders, he knew the process wasn’t over, and the road back to the handball court would require months of commitment and determination with his physical therapy and rehabilitation.
“I did my rehab back home in Hermitage, and it was very successful,” he said. “I kept getting stronger and stronger for the first 3 to 5 months, and then I started playing again after about 6 months.”
Even after the surgery, Dr. Waltrip, Natalie Llewellyn – his physician assistant – and the rest of the Tri Rivers team were invested in Sam’s recovery. But Sam wasn’t the only one impressed.
“Dr. Waltrip gave my physical therapist a paper with instructions for some exercises to do with me,” he said. “She was also very impressed with how prepared and thorough he is.”
About 9 months after his initial shoulder replacement, Sam underwent surgery on his other shoulder. The process of playing handball again was much the same, but Sam knew he could get there because of the care he received from the Tri Rivers staff.
“They all displayed great professionalism,” Sam said. “I was well taken care of. Natalie was great, too. I was really comfortable with the entire staff and both procedures.”
So, what has Sam been up to lately? With both shoulder surgeries in the rearview mirror, Sam is healthy and playing competitive handball again. Earlier this year, he participated in the World 4-Wall Handball Championships, which occur every four years. This year’s tournament was in Minnesota and featured 900 competitors from nine different countries. And although Sam was apprehensive about going, he wanted to prove to himself that he could compete at the highest level. He ended up doing exactly that, winning two matches and advancing to the semifinals.
Upon returning home from the tournament, one of the first things Sam wanted to do was thank Dr. Waltrip for allowing him to pursue such an incredible opportunity.
“I literally could not have done this without him,” Sam said. “Us handball players, we’re all beat up and banged up. I’ve given Dr. Waltrip’s name to many of my friends and fellow handball players. I’ve always been doing that, and I’ll continue to do it."
When Sam tells other people about his success story with Tri Rivers, there’s a good chance he’ll mention the most important component that connected him and Dr. Waltrip: passion.
“When my wife and I first met Dr. Waltrip, he explained that the shoulder is such a unique joint. He said it’s like teeing up a golf ball, in that everything must be perfect – not too high, not too low, must be set at a proper angle. After hearing him talk at length about shoulder surgery, we knew he was the surgeon for us.”
Dr. Waltrip sees patients at our BHS Crossroads Campus and Cranberry/Mars offices as well as the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. To schedule an appointment with him, or any other Tri Rivers provider, please call 1-866-874-7483 or click here.
To learn more about Dr. Waltrip, click here.