Jim Lambert will never forget that life-changing moment three years ago when his competitive weightlifting dreams came to a devastating halt. Like any other Saturday morning, he was working out with the Robinson Weightlifting Team in Franklin. He was doing a barbell lift called “the clean”, lifting about 180 pounds, when everything went wrong.
“The bar was a little out in front of me, and I made the decision to reach forward to it,” recalls Jim, 53, of Milford. “My left wrist got stuck between my body and the bar. My knee hit my elbow at the bottom of the squat and the wrist hyper-extended all the way back. I heard and felt a pop. I was afraid I’d see a bone sticking out. I didn’t see a bone, but then in thirty seconds it swelled twice the size.”
In agonizing pain, Jim called his wife Donna and told her he was headed to Milford Regional’s emergency department, where he expected the staff to manage his discomfort and transfer him to a Boston hospital. He never anticipated that Milford Regional would have an acclaimed hand surgeon on call that could perform emergency surgery. Jeffrey Dietz, MD, of New England Hand Associates, an orthopedic surgery practice specializing in hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder conditions, was contacted and diagnosed a fractured dislocation of the wrist.
For Jim, a serious amateur athlete who competes at the national level for Olympic weightlifting, this injury was catastrophic. Dr. Dietz explained that he needed emergency surgery, and if he waited even a few hours, he would risk damage to the median nerve, which affects the hand and fingers.
Before proceeding with the surgery, Jim called a Boston surgeon who had operated on his elbow five years earlier and was advised to stay where he was. “I thought Milford would be a stop along the way,” Jim states. “When I got there, they were amazing. The admitting doctors said they’d never seen a wrist that looks like this before, so they gave me something for the pain and contacted Dr. Dietz.”
Within a couple hours of Jim’s arrival, he was undergoing open surgery on his wrist—specifically open reduction and fixation of a perilunate dislocation. “We had to put his bones back into normal alignment and put pins and wires to hold things together and repair his ligaments,” explains Dr. Dietz. “It was very severe, and in terms of wrist injuries, it was probably one of the toughest injuries to recover from.”
Jim considers it his good fortune that he ended up at Milford Regional. “I was really lucky that I went to Milford Regional’s emergency department,” he emphasizes. “Any mistake could have permanently damaged my hand. I look back and I was so fortunate that Milford Regional had an on-call hand surgeon available at a moment’s notice on a Saturday morning.”
After Jim underwent the day surgery, he was sent home with pain medication and his wrist wrapped in a post-operative dressing and splint. After about ten days, he was fitted for a larger cast in Dr. Dietz’s office and remained in it for several weeks.
During his recovery period, Jim sought additional opinions from nationally recognized surgeons including those who work with Boston’s professional sports teams. “My goal was to get 100 percent back so that I could keep competing,” Jim says. “I’d go to a surgeon and at every one of them a resident would be called into the room as they’d never seen this kind of injury. They all said the same thing—that Dr. Dietz diagnosed the problem completely on point and did an amazing job with the repair. They said that they couldn’t have done it better themselves.”
Jim admits that he was a difficult patient and wanted out of the cast as soon as possible. He had it taken off at eleven weeks and began physical therapy to regain his range of motion. He and Dr. Dietz had discussed how he could continue his strength training despite the wrist injury. Jim says he appreciates how Dr. Dietz worked with him on his individual goals and needs. “He really listened to me and considered my personal experience,” Jim notes. “I felt we were partners in this. He cared what I wanted.”
Dr. Dietz knew when it was necessary to stand firm on his plans for Jim’s recovery and when he could compromise. While he stressed the importance of patience and rest, he recognized that Jim was a competitive athlete used to participating in three to four national weightlifting events per year. “We made some modifications in protocols, allowing him to lift a certain amount of weight on his other hand, or weights on the injured side without using the wrist,” Dr. Dietz explains. “You can still use certain muscle groups without stressing the repair. I think the most important part is to allow for whatever we’re working on to heal. If you don’t allow something to heal appropriately, it can lead to more issues which will keep you out of competition even longer.”
Jim continued physical therapy while going to weightlifting team practices. Unfortunately, he had a setback when a year after the wrist injury, he suffered an elbow injury on the same arm while using a wrench in his garage. He went straight to Dr. Dietz for what turned out to be a ruptured biceps tendon that required another surgical repair. “I knew who I wanted to fix it,” Jim says. “I trust him. He absolutely knows what he’s doing.”
Thankfully, the ruptured tendon wasn’t as debilitating as the wrist injury, and it took less effort for Jim to regain his strength and range of motion. Today, Jim is back to competing at the masters level in the 50-54 age category. He qualified for a national competition in 2017 and won his weight class. Jim is quick to attribute part of his recent success with the care he received by Milford Regional’s emergency department and Dr. Dietz on that fateful Saturday back in 2016.
“It’s pretty amazing, the idea that I could not only come back from a wrist injury like that, but lift more weight than I did three year ago,” marvels Jim. “What great care I got from Milford Regional and Dr. Dietz. I’ve had more than my share of trips to the hospital—I had my appendix out, stitches, and two major repairs there—and I’ve never had a bad experience. I really feel lucky to have such a wonderful place right down the street. I am fully back. Why would I go to Boston? It’s an easy choice.”