Just a day in the life…

In mainstream society, most 40-something females spend their time buzzing away in trendy offices—perusing email, attending brainstorming meetings and hobnobbing with the up and coming at lunch. But there is another side to “business as usual” that puts an entire new spin on the daily work grind.

While descending down 5,000-foot slopes and skiing full speed down mountains that are sometimes only accessible by helicopter might sound like an action-packed dream adventure, it’s just a day in the life for one 50-year old ski enthusiast.

An extreme skier back in the day, Kim Reichhelm can still be considered “extreme” by anyone’s standards of normal. She has two World Extreme Skiing Championships under her belt along with titles in both the U.S. and South American Extremes. She has skied with the U.S. Ski Team and the Women’s Pro Tour and is a frequent sports commentator for several television networks.

Kim_Reichhelm_0122But for Kim, it’s more than just a hobby and a way to pass time while having fun, skiing is her passion and more importantly, her line of work. For more than 23 years, Kim has been a professional skier and private ski guide working with ski enthusiasts from all over the world. Private lessons, guided group tours and extreme ski camps keep her busy for months—equating to more than 150 days spent on skis in any given year.

Her zeal doesn’t stop on the slopes—it also takes her to the waters of Baja where she spends another great deal of her time surfing—both wave surfing and stand-up paddle surfing. Her past-time activities are sure to intrigue even the most decorated sports professional.

Kim’s bread and butter comes from her skiing career. The time she spends training, teaching and guiding men and women to their skiing potential contributors to her livelihood. In addition, as an independent contractor, she works in the ski industry as a consultant on manufacturing ski design and has an A-list of sponsors who support and trust in her skiing abilities.

So when Kim experienced a hard fall, pummeling her right shoulder into the hard snow, dislocating it entirely in December of 2008, she knew she was going to have to do whatever it took to fix the problem and make it new again.

“I rely on my physical fitness to do my job. My line of work is my livelihood and if I’m injured I simply cannot do my work. It was my goal to seek out the best to treat my injury and I knew I would find that at The Steadman Clinic.”

Though Kim had already had numerous reconstructive orthopedic surgeries in her past, her right shoulder had never been hurt and was in perfect working condition prior to her fall. She was referred to Dr. Peter Millett, with whom she met with soon after the injury. After discussing her injury, carefully examining her, and performing an MRI, Dr. Millett concluded that Kim had an injury that included tears to the biceps tendon and labrum.

Like meeting an old friend…

“My first meeting with Dr. Millett felt like meeting an old friend. He asked me about my life, my line of work, my hobbies and really took the time to look at my injury and my lifestyle so that we could put together a rationale gameplan. His compassion and knowledge really blew me away. It was totally different than all of my previous experiences dealing with orthopedic surgeons. Because of my line of work, he completely understood that I could not be out of commission during the winter months. Together, we made a commitment for me to heal my shoulder as best I could until I could visit him again for a second evaluation.”

That second evaluation came quickly for Kim. She spent weeks trying to nurse her shoulder and although she was able to function, she was only able to give 80% to her job. During the evaluation, Dr. Millett determined that Kim would in fact have to undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery to heal her shoulder injuries or she would risk the chance of possibly never again performing at her maximum potential.

In August of 2009, Kim underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery to repair both the biceps tendon and labral tears on her shoulder. These are important structures that can create significant pain when injured. The surgery was perfumed using minimally invasive, arthroscopic techniques that allowed for an accelerated recovery. She had a type of labial tear known as a SLAP lesion (Superior Labrum Anterior to Posterior) and a tear to the biceps tendon, a tendon from the upper arm muscle, which enters into the shoulder joint and is particularly prone to injury in active people. Both of these anatomic structures were carefully repaired during the surgery.

“It was surreal. I finished my ski lessons in Chile, flew to Vail, and within hours was prepped for surgery. The surgery went very well and within a matter of hours post-op, Dr. Millett sent in his physical therapist to begin passive range of motion exercises. My time spent at The Steadman Clinic was awesome—very comfortable and reassuring. The healing process from here on was a committed effort on my part to do exactly what Dr. Millett told me to do in terms of rest, therapy and adhering to his protocol.”

kim-reichhelm-skiingIn the weeks that followed her surgery, Kim was strict about following Dr. Millett’s rehabilitation instructions. She took some time off and rested her shoulder, allowing it to heal. She also did daily exercises to strengthen her arm and was careful not to over exert herself. Within 8 weeks, Kim was able to start surfing and by 3 months she resumed all skiing activities and began her ski consulting obligations without worry and without further delay.

Kim laughs at the fact that during the months leading up to her surgery, she simply “limped her way by” and was able to fly under the radar with an injury—that for some—would have completely halted all activities. At one full year post-op from her biceps tendon and labral tear injury, she is exuberant in the fact that her shoulder is better than before her injury! With full rotation, zero pain, a strong grip, and most importantly, a new wave of confidence, she is back on her skis mastering the rough terrain and steep slopes of Chile, Colorado, and Alaska and on her surfboard paddling through the waters of Baja.

“Of all my surgeries, my experience with Dr. Millett was simply one of a kind. He connects with his patients on so many levels and goes above and beyond to really get at the root of what is at stake. The relationship he builds with his patients sustains you through any pain and heartache you have to endure during the surgical and recovery process. My shoulder is like new and my worries, fears and apprehensions are completely gone. I owe it all to Dr. Millett.”

To say Kim was back to normal is an understatement. Approximately one day after I interviewed her for this article, she was off to Alaska to guide a tour of eager extreme ski enthusiasts. For her, skiing down super steep, narrow chutes and tight trees is just another…day in the life.

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.