Longtime Wren High School head football coach and athletic director Jeff Tate was only sleeping about two to three hours a night – sometimes sitting upright in a recliner to avoid putting pressure on his arms. Decades of throwing and a college football injury had taken their toll, causing Tate severe pain in both shoulders.
“I’ve thrown my whole life. For as long as I can remember, I was always throwing something,” he said.
As a high school and college athlete, Tate was a baseball pitcher and a football quarterback. As his throwing continued over a 42-year career in coaching, his shoulder pain increased and began experiencing discomfort from arthritis. Eventually, he couldn’t lift his arms above his chest, limiting his daily activities; it was difficult to shower, and even placing dishes on an upper shelf was a challenge.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t throw anymore,” Tate said.
Hesitant to pursue surgery again after a shoulder procedure in 1989 only made the pain worse, Tate had decided he’d just have to live with it. But when the discomfort started affecting his sleep, he could no longer ignore it.
“I couldn’t rest at night. I was tired all the time. I had to do something,” he said.
That’s when he spoke with Dr. Shay Koch of Bon Secours Piedmont Orthopaedics and learned about an advanced GPS-guided shoulder replacement system that might help him get back in the game.
“Coach Tate’s left shoulder had so much bone deformity, he pretty much was in the top 3% of bone wear in terms of how severe it was. It was clear he had been suffering with this pain for a long time,” Dr. Koch recalled.
Still, he knew he could help.
“Dr. Koch told me he believed I’d be able to throw again. Just him saying that gave me a little hope,” said Tate.
Using a 3D image of the bone created by a preoperative CT scan, the GPS-guided shoulder replacement system allows surgeons to rebuild the shoulder on a computer, see what the motion will be like and identify how much bone will need to be removed during the procedure. It also provides surgeons with real-time visual guidance in the operating room, improving accuracy.
“This technology is unique in that it allows us to know exactly where we are drilling and how much bone we are taking away, which is very helpful in a case like Coach Tate’s, where we are trying to limit the amount of bone we take because he had lost so much bone,” Dr. Koch explained. “It can be the difference between traveling across the country using a paper map versus using an up-to-date GPS to get from A to B with out missing a turn.”
Using the GPS-guided technology, Tate’s right shoulder was successfully replaced in January 2021, followed by his left shoulder in December 2022. He can now lift his arms above his chest without pain for the first time since 1987.
“It’s been the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I can rest at night. I can put up dishes now. It doesn’t bother me to do normal daily activities,” Tate said.
If you are experiencing shoulder pain and it’s affecting your daily lifestyle, coach Tate and Dr. Koch agree that you shouldn’t wait to seek help. Reach out to an orthopedist to learn more about the GPS-guided shoulder replacement system and if it may be right for you.
“Age isn’t typically an issue when getting this type of surgery,” said Dr. Koch. “I commonly refer to a fairly healthy 96-year-old patient who had her shoulder replaced using this technology and was in and out of the hospital within 24 hours.”
These days, Tate is back to throwing but now he’s enjoying it with his 10 grandchildren.
“I don’t ever want to be a grandfather who does not have the ability to pick up a grandchild,” Tate mused. “I don’t have to worry about that now. Being able to do things with them and my wife, Lynn – that’s exciting.”
By Amy Connor