Dr. Cathryn Zeglinski is a sports medicine physician at the Northlands Medical Clinic in Whistler, Canada. When she is not treating patients, you can find her racing through the wilderness on her mountain bike. A world-class cyclist, Zeglinski has been competing internationally for the last decade in stage races called marathon epics, which involve daily stage races of 4 to 10 hours.
Beginning her career as a road cyclist, Zeglinski raced on the Canadian National Women’s team in the late 1980’s, and even raced in the Women’s Tour De France, which at that time ran parallel to the men’s race with shorter stages. “After twenty-years hiatus from cycling competitively to study medicine, raise a family, and start a medical clinic I reconnected with my love of cycling and competition. I started mountain biking competitively, and the fire inside was once again stoked and blazed,” said Zeglinski.
As her passion grew, so did her skill level. In 2013, Zeglinski was eyeing the top step at the UCI Masters Mountain Biking World Championships. The race was set for August, 23 in Pietemaritzburg, South Africa. Two days prior to competition Zeglinski was training the racecourse in preparation for the big event. Rushed and jet lagged, Zeglinski took a high sided 5 foot fall with her shoulder taking the full brunt of the impact. She would later find out that she had completely anteriorly dislocated her sternoclavicular joint (SC joint), separated her AC joint (grade 1) and tore the sternal head of her pectoralis off the bone, with some damage to her supraspinatus muscle of her rotator cuff and neck muscles as well.
Despite the pain and severely limited mobility she knew the stakes were high so she gritted her teeth and raced through her injury. Zeglinski won the 2013 UCI World Champion Women’s Division for ages 45 to 49. She was awarded the rainbow jersey, a jersey that includes each color of the Olympic rings and is only worn by the reigning World Champion. Zeglinski said, “I’m one of those who is weepy watching the Olympics medal ceremonies, and it was my Olympics. So, yes, it was a pure moment – special and amazing – wheeee Rainbow Stripes for life, how cool!”
Now that the race was over Zeglinski faced an even bigger obstacle, her injury. Despite being a sports medicine physician for over 15 years in the gravity mountain bike Mecca of Whistler, she had only seen one clavicle dislocation before, and it was not as serious as hers. As a result, she had no idea the severity of her injury. “I knew when I returned home to Whistler that I was going to have to investigate my injury and do some research in medical literature,” said Zeglinski.
Zeglinski’s injury put her at very limited capacity both at work and in any sporting activities, even walking became taxing. She was unable to perform many of the tasks required of her as a physician and cycling was completely out of the question. The medical literature Dr. Zeglinski found on her condition was unclear and very limited. “I really believed that I was going to have to close down my medical practice because my injury was so debilitating and that my life as I had known it was over. It was an emotionally crushing time as the medical research that I read made it seem that there was no option but to remain permanently disabled,” Zeglinski said.
Perplexed, she filmed a short clip of her SC joint and sent it out to her colleagues in hopes of finding an answer. In the video, it clearly showed how her collarbone dislocated forward out of her chest wall with simple rotations of her arm.
She consulted many of her physician peers both in the U.S. and internationally and no one had a viable treatment option. “It was very discomforting to hear from so many physicians that I was going to have to live with my injury. I was willing to fly anywhere in the world to get my injury treated, “ Dr. Zeglinski said.
After living with her injury for some time, Dr. Zeglinski finally discovered Dr. Peter Millett at The Steadman Clinic, due to her persistent searching for a true expert. She was referred to Dr. Millett by Dr. Lars Engebretsen of Norway a renowned knee expert and the Medical Director for the International Olympic Committee. Dr.Engebretsen knew Dr Millett and his work on the SC joint. “I was becoming truly desperate as despite conservative treatment my entire shoulder felt disconnected from my body. After speaking with Dr. Millett and reviewing his research on the sternoclavicular joint, I knew I was in the right hands. Dr. Millett is one of the few surgeons in the world who could treat a complex injury like mine. So many physicians have little experience with this joint due to the complexity and high-risk involved with treating it, but Dr. Millett has taken on this joint and dedicated himself to understanding how to treat it. He has not only become an expert surgeon who can fix complex cases like mine, but he is also a teacher to others, sharing what he has learned through his writings and lectures. If it was not for his skill and knowledge I would be forever disabled,” says Dr. Zeglinski.
Only ten days after her initial conversation with Dr. Millett, Dr. Zeglinski walked into the Vail Health in Colorado for surgery. She had her SC joint surgically rebuilt by Dr Millett and his surgical team, using tendon grafts from her leg to stabilize the SC joint and reconstruct the damaged ligaments. The surgery, which is very technically demanding, went very smoothly and she left the hospital the next day. “The pain after the surgery was not a big issue but the rehabilitation took some time due to the severity of my injury,” said Zeglinski. But not too much time, seven months later she was back on her mountain bike
Less than a year after her surgery, Zeglinski returned to the 2014 UCI Masters World Championships, where she placed second in a hard fought race. Dr. Zeglinski said, “I am riding better than before my injury. When I had my injury, I was a bird with a broken wing; now Dr Millett has helped me fly again! I am forever grateful to Dr. Millett for his surgical expertise, for fixing my SC joint, and for giving me my life back!”
While clinical studies support the effectiveness of these procedures, individual results may vary. There are no guarantees of outcome. All surgeries involve the risk of major complications. Before you decide on surgery, discuss treatment options with your doctor. Understanding the risks of each treatment can help you make the best decision for your individual situation. Always ask your doctor about all treatment options, as well as their risks and benefits. Only your doctor can determine the appropriate treatment for your situation. The clinical information and opinions, including any inaccuracies expressed in this material by patients or doctor are not necessarily those of Peter Millett, MD and should not be considered as substitute for medical advice provided by your doctor.