My Latest Adventure: Navigating a Tendon Tear with the Mayo Clinic

What does FDR have to do with current events and my gluteus medius tendon tear?

A lot.

For one thing, my tear has provided a great perspective for me after knowing that FDR was stricken with polio at age 39. It has also created a sense of optimism because of how he handled his much, much worse situation and endured his disability with such grace that he became the poster child for "people of determination," a phrase I heard often while in Dubai.

The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has a game-changing theory that people in a wheelchair, people who are blind, people who need everyday help to get through their sustained life are "people of determination." The words “handicapped” and “disabled” are banned, and that's a graceful description to adopt.

Many of you know that I'm a climber. I’m big on finding steep slopes, going on training missions, climbing Capitol Peak, Kilimanjaro, and other amazing places around the world. My passion, and the place I feel the safest, is on the edge of a cliff.

Readers of my blog might remember an excerpt from my post on climbing Capitol Peak. My son Shawn gave me a great piece of advice: “If you think the next step will kill you, don't take it.” I was excited about my recent trip to Alaska in the summer of 2023 where I experienced some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the northernmost state. Seeing Denali gave me the inspiration to climb it, and I targeted 2025. However, some of our dreams and ideas do not always work out the way we plan.

In September, with Denali on my mind, my training began on the steep side of Arbaney Kittle. While stepping off the trail to let a descending runner go by, I slid and fell about 10 or 12 feet. My palms got scratched and I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. I thought that I had maybe torn a muscle in my right hip, but I felt very fortunate to have arrested the fall before it became much worse. The young, athletic runner stopped right away and seemed more shaken than I was. She helped pull me up to the trail and I told her to go on her way and that all was fine. I tried to go on with my ascent when reality set in, overpowered my adrenaline, and caused my brain to start working so the smarter thing to do—head down—came to pass.

Returning to the ranch, my mind was on other things. I was very sore so I decided to take a few days off. Then I started training again very quickly on the same trail even though sleeping was challenging and turning from side to side made for restless nights.

A week or so later, some friends asked me to play golf, which was a nonstarter, but I went to get them set up on the course. On my first swing on the driving range, there was a very loud pop, loud enough that the guy right in front of me turned around and asked if that gunshot sound had come from my body. I was lying on the ground so he could see that it had.

Again, my first thought was that I had maybe pulled or torn a muscle in the same place as when I had slipped. Besides loving climbing, I’m a fast walker. People who walk slowly drive me crazy. But as we wrapped up things at Rosebud Ranch for the fall and headed back to St. Louis, I had definitely added a slow limp to my usual peppy gait.

I have, from time to time, had cortisone shots to treat tennis elbow or bursitis in my hip, but decided to forgo that this time and find out what was going on based on the sleepless nights that became very common by mid-October. I went to see a hip specialist and was able to get an MRI that revealed something bad going on in my gluteus medius tendon. For sure it was torn. Not knowing much about it and wanting to be my own medical advocate, I decided to get multiple opinions. The very first specialist I saw, a Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University resident, immediately told me he thought that the tear would have to be surgically repaired. Two other doctors were not so sure and said I might want to try physical therapy for a while, given my strength, level of willpower and tolerance for pain.

Since I am very willing to try out-of-the-box solutions, I sought out an Alternative Therapy M.D./“Witch Doctor” that I had heard could do some bone marrow and stem cell transplants from my own blood in some type of graft. I guess they would be injected and overlaid on the tear. Hmmm. I know this is a very popular treatment for many athletes for various injuries and pains, but I don't think this was the right time or place.

By December, the pain increased during the day, and it had gotten much worse at night, so I was trying various pain medicines. I saw an interesting interview with the new CEO, Bill Anderson, of Bayer Drug Company, a very impressive person and even close to my age. He had just suffered a very serious injury to his Femur while skateboarding, of all things. No kidding. Apparently, he is a very good skateboarder –or was. I don't think he was plugging his own product when he said that the drug that was working for him the best was Aleve. I was taking Tylenol and Advil at the same time and then alternately using Aleve. Occasionally, I used low dosages of the narcotic most recently made famous by the Sackler family.

Out of everything I tried, Aleve turned out to be the most effective, although the side effects were a problem for me. I would highly recommend it for 12 hours of relief for people who don't have a bad reaction to it.

Sometimes, I hear entrepreneurs and even very successful businesspeople say they don't believe in luck. What utter bullshit. Anybody who doesn't believe in luck is beyond arrogant. I can look back and track my whole life filled with happenstance and luck, and I think the secret is when good, just lean into it and take advantage of it. You also need to be able to recognize a good thing when it happens to you. All of which is to say I can only attribute what happened next to luck.

My daughter Katie was having dinner with one of her high school friends, now Dr. Charles Hannon, the night before Christmas Eve. My injury came up in the conversation because this young man has become an outstanding orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, and he started asking Katie all about it. He asked for permission to pass my cell phone number to the doctor who trained him at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Rafael Sierra, and she said, “Of course.” He also described the surgery to Katie as being gruesome and rough.

The very next morning, Dr. Rafael Sierra called me on my cell. I was in disbelief — it was Christmas Eve. He asked me to give him a quick description, and as soon as he heard some of the opinions from the MRI, he said he thought I should come to the Mayo Clinic right away. He agreed to see me during the holidays, and I scheduled my first appointment for December 28th. I've had many friends and associates who rave about the Mayo Clinic, and I found out the reason why it's the number one-rated hospital in the world. I flew up on December 28th early in the morning and went through a rapid-fire handful of appointments that went like clockwork as I moved around the giant facility from department to department. By 11 a.m., I was sitting with Dr. Rafael Sierra and his very capable nurse Marcy.

I gave him a detailed description of what had been happening and then he popped my MRI that I had brought with me from BJC/Washington University onto his monitor. I was amazed by the technologically advanced images I was looking at, in color, no less. It almost looked like a video game, and you could see in vivid detail the muscles, the tendon, the bone, and very clearly a giant tear to my gluteus medius tendon. The doctor was glad to see that the muscle had begun shrinking and that the injury from the fall was new enough that it did not have any atrophy. You could see the muscle on my left side in comparison and it was clear that the right side had begun the shrinkage process, and there could've been as much as an eighth of an inch lost on both sides, which seems kind of significant.

Dr. Sierra described the gory route ahead and within minutes we decided to schedule the necessary affair. I really had no choice other than to have the surgery if I wanted to be done with the pain. I had one incredible day at the Mayo Clinic for preoperative work on January 5th and scheduled the surgery for January 11th. It was almost exactly 365 days from my cataract surgery in 2023.

Again, on January 5th, I encountered the incredible machinery of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I've been to great facilities and hold Washington University and the University of Chicago Medical Center in very high esteem, but it's hard to find the right words for how impressed I was. Because the facility is vast, they have this incredible signage that helps you navigate. Honestly, it reminded me of the Haute Route in Switzerland as you enter the various towns and villages with all the little pointy signs that direct you the way you might want to go. After my tour through the Mayo mountains, we were all systems go for surgery on January 11th.

My friend and mentor Bob Wislow, former CEO of US Equities and current Chairman and CEO of Parkside Realty, joined me on the trip to Mayo for the adventure and stayed until the surgeon declared all was safe. It was helpful that Bob is Chairman of the Board of Governors at Rush as they reached out to executives at Mayo to let them know we were all coming. I think at the Mayo Clinic every person is treated the same, but it's always worth weighing in. We arrived on January 10th in the evening and upon arrival, I received a welcome message from a Patient Relations Specialist at Mayo to see if she could be of assistance with the surgical admission the next morning. Great patient care.

Sure enough on January 11th I woke up to a text message from Meg, my Patient Specialist. She was there to greet me and take me over to surgery. The process is smooth, timely, and friendly. I saw the anesthesiologist, and Dr. Sierra came in to put his initials on my hip -- always a good idea to do the surgery on the right spot. We decided against general anesthesia and went with the spinal block, where they just knock me out and make me go to sleep. As I'm lying in place and getting the spinal tap, all I can remember is repeating, “I'm still awake, I'm still awake, I'm still …...”

The next thing I remember is waking up in recovery to some smiling nurses’ faces and somebody comes by and tells me everything went well. The rest of the next day or so was pretty foggy, but in the afternoon, a physical therapist came by to explain the brace, my new best friend that locks my hip in place for the next six weeks. I'm told that seven years ago, this would've been a body cast for seven weeks, so I'm feeling pretty lucky.

The next day, I’m released and begin my terrifying journey to the Palm Springs airport. Better weather in a mild climate for healing seemed like a much better choice than the zero-degree and sub-zero-degree temperatures, snow, and ice that the Midwest was getting hammered with upon my departure.

Today, I’m four weeks post-op, and I’m making great progress. I feel like the surgery was successful, but I still have a long way to go. I lose the brace in two more weeks and start adding 25% of my weight, on the right side, every two weeks. It’s going to be a slow and tough process. The pain is more manageable, and I've been tremendously comforted by all my friends and family who've come to see me (maybe because of the weather). I’ve even had some strategic planning meetings with partners by the pool.

I want to again thank all the amazing doctors, nurses, and other professional healthcare associates and people who have been helping me get on a path to reach the summit of Denali in 2025, as I am extremely grateful. Like FDR, I'm determined. Some would say that like always, I'm irrationally optimistic as well.

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