When Larry Zona set out for a bike ride on the Chicago Lakefront Trail one day in 2010, he never imagined the trip could have life-altering consequences. Unfortunately, when Zona’s tire hit a large pothole near North Avenue Beach, his bike flipped over, throwing him a few feet away — unconscious, bleeding and with extensive damage to his right arm.
The injury, which happened when Zona was 51, limited his ability to work and enjoy the activities he loved, but advancements in care made possible by donor support to Rush University System for Health’s LiveActive Fund for Orthopedic Research and Education restored Zona’s mobility and gave him a second chance.
The accident’s painful aftermath
After witnessing Zona’s accident, passersby called paramedics, who took Zona to a nearby hospital’s emergency room. Doctors suspected Zona had dislocated his shoulder, but an X-ray revealed severe damage to his humerus and soft tissue. Doctors inserted a rod into his arm, but this treatment did not alleviate Zona’s suffering.
"I went a whole year-and-a-half constantly in pain, going through physical therapy," Zona said. "I kept going back to the doctors, and they said I should give up my business — my livelihood."
Zona owned and managed a popular flower shop called Bloomingfields Florist in south suburban Orland Park, Illinois, for 25 years and had just signed a five-year lease. Being right-handed, he relied on his right arm to build floral arrangements and conduct daily operations. Zona’s physical therapist suspected that something was awry with his lack of progress and persistent pain. He suggested Zona get a second opinion from specialists at Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH.
Brian J. Cole, MD, MBA, associate chairperson of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at RUSH, is a nationally renowned orthopedic sports medicine surgeon driven to help patients like Zona regain a higher quality of life. Cole met with Zona and immediately sprung to action, requesting an MRI and subsequently scheduling surgery.
"The biggest issue we look at when treating someone is: Will we deliver what they’re looking for and help them achieve their goals?" Cole said. "Larry wanted out of pain and to use his arm. As simple as that may be, it’s profoundly life-altering to have the inability to do your job or be active."
"He was eager to help me out," Zona said of Cole. "That doesn’t come around much."
‘The light at the end of the tunnel’
During the surgery, Cole discovered that the rod in Zona’s arm was severely infected — so much so that Zona was at high risk for sepsis. Cole inserted a spacer and a PICC line for antibiotics, which Zona received twice a day for about a month. Once the infection subsided, Cole performed a reverse total shoulder replacement procedure that proved highly successful. Zona’s pain and mobility quickly improved, and he was soon back to work during the height of his career’s success.
"Dr. Cole got me back up again," Zona said. "It was tough for me because I was on pain medication after the accident, and most of the time, I felt like a zombie. I would try to put in a day of work and was exhausted. It was a tough time, but after seeing Dr. Cole, it was like the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I owe him so much. He gave me a second chance."
Zona expressed his gratitude by regularly sending floral arrangements to the clinic for about six years until he sold his business in 2017.
"Larry came into the office six to eight months after his surgery and brought us one of the most beautiful floral arrangements I’ve ever seen," Cole said. "For me, what’s most gratifying is deciding on a course of treatment and seeing it play out where an individual — who is such a nice person, who had such a disability associated with their condition — can now do virtually everything they want to do with no pain and can thrive again."
Now 63, Zona maintains an active lifestyle. He decorates clients’ homes for the holidays each year, gardens, walks, jogs and even continues to ride his bike.
Philanthropy improves life for patients like Larry
Cole and his team depend on philanthropy to fund advancements in sports medicine that restore mobility, creativity and hope for patients like Zona. Grateful patients established the LiveActive Fund for Orthopedic Research and Education, which is focused on advancing new knowledge about the treatment of bone and joint conditions to restore patients’ quality of life and help them stay active.
"Research costs money and takes time," Cole said. "Given the challenges of obtaining funding from federal and various agencies, we rely upon grateful patients to continue supporting what we call translational research. We identify problems in the clinic, take them to the lab to study, and in short order, bring solutions back to the patient to make a difference."
In Zona’s case, Cole drew from extensive research on reverse total shoulder replacements to determine the best surgical techniques, select the most advanced implant technology and implement well-proven post-operative rehabilitation.
"Philanthropy helps us fill in knowledge gaps and assess our successes and failures so we can make a difference in decision-making and techniques to more predictably deliver what patients want," Cole said.
For more information, please visit https://www.rush.edu/news/he-gave-me-second-chance-larrys-story