John Gans: Wilderness Guru, Nature Advocate, Believer in the Great Outdoors—Recipient of the CAM Procedure for Osteoarthritis and Chronic Shoulder Pain

Dr. Millett’s passion is simple: keeping active people active. For many, that may include helping them to maintain a lifestyle that starts with a morning run, playing a favorite sport, or simply participating in outdoor extracurricular activities such as shooting hoops with their kid.  John Gans, a patient of Dr. Millett’s who just this past April had the new CAM Procedure performed on his left shoulder, takes active to an all-new level.

When we interviewed John for this feature, we were amazed at the life he has lived up to this point. He’s traveled to pretty much every country and hidden foreign gem on the planet and has partaken in dozens of outdoor expeditions that moved him to sleep under the stars for 80% of one given year.

John, who resides in Lander, Wyoming, grew up on a country dairy farm in Minnesota. His days were long spent milking cows, helping on the farm and discovering the woods around the land. His love for nature, the outdoors and a feverish appetite for exploration began here.

Today, he is the current Executive Director for the National Outdoor Leadership School (referred to as NOLS).  NOLS is a non-profit educational institution that takes people of all ages into the wilderness on remote expeditions teaching them outdoor and leadership skills. John joined NOLS in 1981 as an instructor and has been guiding hungry students ever since.

As part of the educational experience, technical outdoor skills, environmental ethics, and overall leadership is taught to each student in these magnificent and awe-inspiring outdoor classrooms.  From Kenya, Chile, Alaska and Asia, John Gans has seen it all. Above sea level and below, from frozen glaciers to the sweltering equator, John has spent years hiking and traveling to remote destinations to teach motivated students competent and responsible wilderness skills.

With years of mountaineering, rock climbing, backpacking and so much more, it isn’t a huge surprise that his body would endure a little wear and tear.  The biggest pain: his shoulder.

“For about thirty years, I’ve experienced some pretty sharp shoulder pains on my left side. Carrying a backpack days on end and sleeping on hard surfaces had worn my shoulder down.  I’ve never experienced a major shoulder injury from trauma, but the dull, chronic pain has been a problem for me for some time now,” said John, who was also a competitive swimmer in both high school and college—another factor that most likely led to the pain in his shoulder.

Like many people who just want to get on with their life, John tried to nurse his shoulder back to health and just “wait for it to go away.” That never happened. He finally saw a local orthopedic doctor who sent him for MRIs and the tests revealed a big mess.

“When my radiologist took a look at the MRI she kind of confirmed that there was a lot going on within my shoulder. She told me that she had two children and a husband who had shoulders operated on and that Dr. Peter Millett from the Steadman Clinic was the guy I needed to see.”

The radiologist that performed the MRI for John, began revealing to him the information about The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.  That same afternoon, John began his research. He read about The Steadman Clinic and Dr. Millett and was determined to get in front of him and get answers regarding his shoulder.  After spending much time on the phone in conversation with Dr. Millett and members of his staff, John made the seven-hour drive to see him—and he went prepared.

“I was already anticipating surgery,” said John. “By this point, I couldn’t even get my arm to scratch my back. I had zero range of motion and was in constant pain. I was actually craving surgery, anything that would fix it.”

In April of 2010, during that same initial visit, Dr. Millett performed surgery on John’s left shoulder.  Years of overuse, heavy carrying and wear and tear had led to serious osteoarthritis of the shoulder; in addition, bone spurs, a torn bicep tendon and tendonitis were also present.

Dr. Millett performed the revolutionary CAM procedure on John.  This procedure, which stands for comprehensive arthroscopic management, was pioneered and created by Dr. Millett and is used on patients with osteoarthritis.  It is often performed on younger patients who wish to remain active and pain-free, as well as avoid shoulder replacement surgery at such a young age.  John was 54 when the CAM procedure was surgically performed on his shoulder.

“I really have no intention of slowing down,” said John. “I want to continue my active lifestyle and this surgery gave me that chance.”

Using a variety of minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery techniques and regenerative technologies, Dr. Millett removed the loose cartilage and labral tissue in John’s shoulder joint and scraped and smoothed out the bone within the joint; bone spurs, which are usually present, are also removed. The CAM procedure was designed to alleviate pain, joint improvement, mobility and cartilage regeneration.  The procedure is estimated to last for up to twenty years, where at that time, joint replacement surgery may be a viable option.

John_Gans_Hiking“After surgery, my shoulder felt so much better. I spent months in rehab and stuck to the strict protocol that Dr. Millett put me on. This past month, I took my oldest daughter, Mara, and my family on a backpacking trip to celebrate Mara’s graduation from high school and her soon to be college adventure. I was able to carry my heavy pack and get it on and off without pain. I have nothing holding me back and it is such a relief.”

John has returned to his position at NOLS and has begun transitioning back into the role he is so passionate about. Five months post-op, he is already getting ready for some new expeditions and adventures.

“When I knew I had a chronic shoulder problem, I didn’t have time to mess around. I wanted to go the right person right off the bat; someone who knew what they were doing. I was very impressed with Dr. Millett, not only is he just a wonderfully nice guy, I was so equally impressed with the facility, the team, the nursing staff, the office staff, even his insurance and office coordinators. It is just a night and day experience. They are the consummate professionals and under the direction of Dr. Millett, you just can’t get a stronger team and a more exceptional caring experience.”

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.