Patient Stories

Keith W. Lawhorn, MD

International Country Club tennis partners Cory and Jim are not your ordinary doubles champions. At 57 and 58, they are the oldest combined pairing to win the championship in the club's history. What makes it even more remarkable: they came back to defend their title after both had rotator cuff surgery.

Cory's injury took place several years ago during warm-ups for an interclub match. He felt a sudden, sharp pain in his right shoulder while hitting an overhead shot. At first he thought he'd pulled a muscle and rested it for a few weeks. But when he got back on the court and tried to serve, the pain was still there.

Cory consulted fellow club member Keith Lawhorn, MD, at OrthoVirginia, who initially recommended physical therapy. When the pain persisted, and an MRI revealed a tear, Cory opted for a surgical repair.

"Surgery was necessary if I wanted to return to playing tennis competitively - the way I am used to," he says. "It helped that Dr. Lawhorn is a tennis player and understands how important tennis is to me in my life. It gave him great insight into what it would take to return me to a high level of play."

Jim had partially torn his rotator cuff 30 years earlier while on the U.S. Olympic handball training team and the injury had worsened over time. When he hit a routine shot during a mixed doubles match, he felt a pop and some pain in his left shoulder. Although he was able to complete play, he woke up the next morning in severe pain, barely able to lift his left arm.

Encouraged by Cory's experience, Jim consulted Dr. Lawhorn, too. "I wanted surgery right away, but Dr. Lawhorn recommended trying some non-operative options first, including rehabilitation to provide strengthening of the surrounding tissue," he says. Ultimately, however, Jim ended up having a surgical repair.

Rehabilitation was a slow process that involved four weeks of immobilization in a sling, followed by several months of physical therapy, progressing to strengthening and tennis ground strokes at six to nine months. They returned to full play, including unrestricted serving, at one year.

Both men appreciated the conservative approach. "It was absolutely 100% the right thing to do," Jim says. "At the time, I was pushing for a faster return, but Dr. Lawhorn refused to let me do too much too soon and now my shoulder feels better than it ever has before."

Cory, who feared his injury had ended his tennis career, was equally grateful he did not rush back to the court. "When I finally attempted a gentle serve, and felt absolutely no discomfort whatsoever - relief just washed over me. It felt like I had a brand new arm," he says.

The pair put their repaired shoulders to the ultimate test in February, winning International's doubles championship for the second time in four years. Everyone they played was younger, including some father-son teams. Their goal is to defend their title - and set new combined age records - for as long as they can.

"We feel so fortunate and owe it all to the excellent care we received from OrthoVirginia and Dr. Lawhorn," Jim says. "He is one of my true heroes."