One Year Since Bicep Tenodesis Surgery

Big bulging biceps

Disclaimer: this is a stock photo off the Internet. My actual bicep size may vary!

It has been a year since I had bicep tenodesis surgery through the Sports Medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic. My last post about the surgery was 6 months ago. Back then I noted that it had been about a month since I began to feel like I was “back to normal.”

Here I am at the one year mark and my verdict is that, despite the fact that recovery was longer than I expected, it was worth it. 99.9% of the time I don’t even think about my shoulder; before the surgery, pain and discomfort were my constant companion. The only differences I notice now are that when I sleep on my left side, I can only sleep with a pillow supporting my right arm (the one that had the surgery), and that during certain exercise that involve raising my arm overhead I hear clicking. Aside from these minor changes, I have no limitations.

Final thought: as we age, we often think that we have to accept pain, discomfort, and limitations on our mobility. That is not necessarily the case. Every person is different and individual circumstances will dictate the best course of action. Sometimes physical therapy is called for, or simply rest and ice. In my case, when those options did not improve the situation, I am glad that I was a candidate for this surgery and had a successful outcome.

Meeting the Recipient

Wednesday was a big day. The Cleveland Clinic arranged for all three donors and all three recipients in our “daisy chain” to meet each other in person.

I had already met Papa Phil; he was the person for whom I donated even though we were not a match; because of my donation, he got a kidney from another donor. Where the kidney that I donated had gone was a mystery to me…until yesterday.

I got to meet Norman. And he got to meet me.

It was an emotional moment for both of us. Almost overwhelming. An amazing embrace of two strangers who now share something very special.

And it was all caught on tape! The Cleveland Clinic had brought us all together to film a kind of “promo” for the transplant program. Not only was it amazing to meet the guy who got the kidney that had been with me for 58 years, I got to meet the other two donors and the third recipient as well.

The time was brief because I had to run to teach a fitness class. On the way home, my wife read a letter from Norman and a card that his mother had written to me. Although I did not really get a chance to talk with either of them, I could tell that I was going to like them both.

Later in the day, we met at a local restaurant for dinner–all the donors, recipients, relatives, and Dr. Wee, the surgeon who made it all possible!

It was an unbelievable gathering as we all got to know each other. Not everyone was from Cleveland. We are a diverse group as well. We all come from different walks of life. And now, for as long as we live, we will be connected to each other by whatever forces brought us together and by a little organ that weighs less than half a pound.

I will never forget June 30, 2021. For Norman and me, it is the beginning of a relationship. We are now KBs (Kidney brothers). To paraphrase Jewish liturgy: I am grateful to God who brought me into life, sustained me, and allowed me to experience this sacred moment.

A Month After Donating a Kidney

Framed Embroidery Kidney Anatomy Art. Hand Embroidered.

On the one hand, it seems like the surgery just happened. On the other hand, it seems like it was ages ago. I will blame my confusion on the residual anesthesia still coursing through my body.

When I posted last about my kidney donation, I was still in what I refer to as “the rough period.” This recovery has been more difficult than I expected. I was told that the first few days would be tough; the day of surgery and the day after were a piece of cake since I was on a lot of pain medicine. The following day when I went home was a lot harder; the car ride home was torture!

I got a list of what I should expect after discharge from the hospital, but somehow I was still caught somewhat by surprise. There was a fair amount of discomfort. I lost a lot of weight (which I did not need to do). I began to feel like I had turned a corner until 10 days after surgery. After 2 weeks, I was back to training clients virtually–albeit with naps in between! After 3 weeks, I was training my in-home clients, and then a few days later I went back to teaching my fitness classes. The main thing now is that I still tire quite easily; as I indicated in my last post, I have really had to listen to my body and figure out what I can and cannot do. I do finally feel like myself again, though, and look forward to building up my strength and endurance.

Would I do this again? Absolutely not–I intend to keep the one kidney I have left! Did I think this was worthwhile? Absolutely yes! A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had dinner with Phil and his wife; he is the guy for whom I donated, but was not the one to actually receive the kidney since we were not a match. It was great to see how well he is doing; unlike the donor, the recipient feels better almost immediately. Sometimes in life we wonder if we really make a difference. This time, I know that I did. It was also just amazing to have this connection with a stranger.

Next week, the Cleveland Clinic will be hosting a reunion for the 3 donors and 3 recipients in our “daisy chain.” This will be when I meet the guy who got the kidney I donated (I try not to call it “my kidney,” because now it is his). I am kind of nervous about it. I had gotten to know Phil through social media, but the recipient is really a total stranger. I hope it will be just as amazing to have a connection with him; we will see how it goes.

In the meantime, I have heard about three people I know who need kidneys. One is in the thick of finding a donor. It is refreshing to see the outpouring of concern, support and prayers on Facebook. Hopefully, it will translate into something more. Hopefully, someone will see it–just like I saw a post last year–and decide not to keep scrolling, or to just “like” the post, but actually take the first step to find out about donating.

Despite all the discomfort, I feel so grateful that I was able to do this. I am thankful that I did not wait until it was too late. I am proud that I have made my health and fitness a priority.

Thank you to my wife, my family, and my friends for all their support. Thanks to everyone at the Cleveland Clinic: my doctors, the kidney donor coordinators, the nurses, aides, phlebotomists, environmental services, and administrative staff. In my book, you are all heroes too!

I Donated a Kidney, Part 1

Kidney Beans

A week ago today (May 25) I underwent a “donor nephrectomy,” which is to say that I donated my left kidney to someone with serious kidney disease through the Cleveland Clinic.  I have been home since Thursday and am slowly recovering, every day feeling a little bit stronger.

The process began several months ago when I saw a Facebook post about a guy in the Detroit-area (we’ll call him Papa Phil) who was looking for a kidney.  He had launched a campaign on social media and somehow it ended up on my FB feed.  I still am not sure where I saw it because we don’t have any FB friends in common; I thought I saw it on a Cleveland Jewish FB Group but cannot find the post anywhere.

I sent a message to his son as directed by the post; he told me to contact the Kidney Donor Office at the Cleveland Clinic which I did.  They asked me a few questions and sent me an on-line questionnaire…which I figured, given my medical history, would be the end of it.  To my surprise, I was not disqualified right off the bat.  After a subsequent phone call with a nurse in the Transplant Center, I still was not disqualified.  

What we did find out, however, was that Papa Phil and I were not a match; our blood types are different.  I had a choice:  either I could walk away at this point, or I could stay in the process and be part of a swap; this means that a yet-to-be-determine John/Jane Doe who matched Papa Phil would give him a kidney, and my kidney would go to John/Jane’s intended recipient with whom they were not a match.  I figured that once the kidney was out it did not really matter to me as long as Papa Phil would get a kidney when all was said and done.

Within 24 hours I got a call from the Cleveland Clinic and we were setting up times for me to go to the Main Campus for a full work-up (top to bottom, inside and out).  During this time, I was intermittently in touch with Papa Phil’s son; we had a nice line of communication–not bad for a Buckeye fan and a Michigan fan!–but I understood well that Papa Phil probably had dozens of others who were already in process…and further ahead of me too.  I decided that from here on in I would not contact the family; partially, I did not want to put a “jinx” on things, but I also did not want to allow myself or him and his family to get too excited by the progress when I knew that well over 100 people had already been disqualified or had backed out.

In mid-April, shortly after Passover I went in for my first day of testing.  The day did not start well.  First stop was the lab where I was to have a blood draw…30 tubes actually–which if they had told me in advance might have been the end of the whole thing!  They got the blood but I nearly passed out.  Luckily the rest of the day was easier.  I came back a week later for the second round:  a full day of meeting with doctors, surgeons, and others.  It was the day of the all-important GFR test to determine my kidney function levels; in order to give away one kidney, there must be enough function in the remaining one to allow me to still be in the “normal” range.  The hope was that after that second day of testing, they would be able to present my case to the transplant team that Friday.  Due to a few tests that came back a little concerning (although ultimately not problematic), I had to do some follow-up tests; the coming week I had also been scheduled for a routine colonoscopy (unrelated to the kidney surgery) and the team wanted to wait for those results as well; everything got pushed back a week.

By this point, I was filled with a mix of emotions.  On the one hand, I had gone through so much testing that I was hoping I would qualify to donate just so it would not have been a waste of time.  I also know that Papa Phil had come very close to getting a kidney from a posthumous donation, but that had fallen through.  I was really committed to this and wanted it to happen.  On the other hand, no one was more shocked and surprised than me that I was still in the running.  I reasoned that either they were really desperate for kidneys…or I was in much better shape than I thought.


The day of the Transplant Team’s meeting came and went and I heard nothing.  I, of course, assumed that this was a “no,” and they just did not want to ruin my weekend.  Saturday came and went with no notice on My Chart either.  But the phone rang on Monday morning at 7:30 am with the news that I was qualified to donate.  No one was more shocked and elated than I.

The next day I got a text from Papa Phil’s son simply stating that he had received an interesting call from the Cleveland Clinic.  I responded with a text asking:  “Will he be busy on May 25?”  The phone rang and we shared our relief and joy together; it turns out that due to privacy laws they had no idea what my status was.  They were not even sure it was me that had been qualified.

After that, things moved rather quickly.  The same day I was told that surgery would be in 3 weeks, May 25–the day after my 58th birthday!  We would be part of a three-way swap; within the span of a couple of days, three people would donate (including me) and three people would receive (including Papa Phil)–all of us part of a daisy chain of mismatches willing to match for others.

I won’t get into the details of all the preparation that needed to take place in 3 short weeks, but it was a mad dash for me to tell people who needed to know, arrange for substitutes for clients, and get legal stuff in order like a living will (signed at 4 pm the day before surgery!).  

On May 23, I went with my wife down to Columbus to see my kids to celebrate my birthday a day early.  My daughter baked an amazing cake, which luckily did not say “Farewell, Dad!”–although we did joke about it.  On the way out of Cleveland, we stopped in to meet Papa Phil and his wife face-to-face.  It was a short visit–maybe 15 minutes but I’ll remember it as long as I live.  What an amazing feeling to make this connection.  

You all know that I am a religious guy.  I still cannot figure out how I saw this post on Facebook.  I see so many requests for help on social media; why was I moved to act this time?  That will be the subject of an upcoming blog post, but I definitely think there has been some divine intervention in this whole process.  I have a few more thoughts on this subject, so stay tuned and thank you for sticking with this way-longer-than-usual post.

I am doing OK here, better every day.  Best of all, Papa Phil is doing great!!!  And we are both looking forward to the blessings that life ahead has to offer.

6 Months Since Bicep Surgery

Biceps brachii - Muscles of the Upper Extremity Visual Atlas, page 46

Hardly seems possible, but with the snow falling outside I realized that tomorrow marks 6 months since my bicep tenodesis surgery. Here is a short update on where I am.

I had the surgery after more than a year of physical therapy that provided little relief to the pain and limited mobility I was experiencing in my right arm. I am not sure how I injured it in the first place but I am willing to guess that there was a dumbbell bench press somewhere along the way that did not go right. I reached the point early last summer where I knew it was not going to get better and, in fact, I was finding it harder to use my right arm and having difficulty sleeping from the pain at night.

The surgery was done by Dr. James Rosneck of the sports medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic; it was done outpatient at the sports medicine facility. Previous posts talk about my progress during the first week, two weeks, month, etc. My main complaint after the surgery was the continuing discomfort. It was not until about a month ago that I really began to sense that the surgery was worth it. I am almost pain-free; every once in a while, I get a twinge when turning my arm a certain way. I have returned to lifting heavier weights. I am no longer feeling like the injury and subsequent repair are in any way impairing my ability to do my work–especially teaching my fitness classes. I am still careful, and in the coming months I expect the improvements to continue.

My words of advice to those considering this bicep repair surgery: recovery will take longer than you think. The timeline given to me before surgery was not so accurate (is it ever?); I was able to get back to work in a week (although limited) and was back in the gym a week later. In terms of feeling “back to normal,” however, it was more like 5 months. Consider the risks and the benefits and make the decision that fits for you and your doctor.

My COVID-19 Test

Michigan National Guard conducts COVID-19 testing in Marquette

Today I had to get a COVID-19 test in preparation for a surgical procedure on Thursday. So what was it like?

The picture above pretty much sums it up. I had my test at the Cleveland Clinic main campus and somehow thought I would be going inside to do it. My GPS brought me to the main campus and as I was close to the address that they had given me I began to see signs by the side of the street pointing to the testing site. It was around one corner, around another, around another and then I saw the line of cars in a parking lot. “Not too bad,” I thought. Maybe 6 or 7 cars in front of me. A Cleveland Clinic Traffic Police Officer directed 3 cars at a time into a parking garage so I thought this would be relatively quick. I also realized that the test would be done while I was still in my car. I was finally directed into the parking garage and (as happens at Disney parks), there was another line inside. This line was for check-in. Once check-in was completed, there was another line. Finally, three cars were called ahead to three spaces inside the garage where I finally got the test.

It literally took about 5 seconds. It was not enjoyable. I felt like I wanted to sneeze, but it was not the least bit painful. It happened so quickly that there wasn’t enough time to process it.

20 or so minutes in line for a 5 second test. Given everything that is going on in our country and how the numbers are spiking in Ohio, I am grateful that it was this easy. I know that there are places in our nation where accessibility is a much greater issue.

Now I wait for 24-48 hours for my results. I am symptom-free and I have to get my temperature taken every time I walk into the building to work–so far without any issues. I expect that my result will be negative, but it is altogether possible that I have the virus and am simply asymptomatic. I am hoping for the best, and thankful that a test exists.

I will keep you posted. In the meantime, stay safe–distance yourself, wear your mask, and wash your hands!