HSS Community Programs: A Key to My Shoulder Recovery


The HSS Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) Survey helps HSS develop community programs that best meet the needs of people such as Phebe Tanners. Hear from Phebe herself as she shares her story about how our programs helped her during her recovery process and beyond.

I was so looking forward to celebrating my 65th birthday with my family in Southampton, NY. However, on “Friday the 13th”, August 2010, I learned that fate had quite another plan in mind. Entering my favorite ice-cream parlor, I tripped over a carton of water misplaced in a crowded aisle and suffered a compound shoulder break, in four places, along with a torn rotator cuff. Five days later, on my birthday of all days, I was in the skilled hands of Dr. Andrew Pearle, an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), who performed emergency surgery on my shoulder. My 65th birthday gift was not a ruby or a diamond, rather, a metal plate and six surgical pins.

A long, difficult, and painful recovery followed the surgery. I was often disillusioned and quite sad. Even the excellent guidance I received from my physical therapist, Sarah McLean, at the HSS Rehabilitation Physical Therapy Clinic left me wondering if I would ever be able to resume an active, pain free and happy life. While waiting for a physical therapy session, I happened upon a brochure from the Public and Patient Education Department (PPED) at HSS.  Within it were descriptions of wellness exercise programs that seemed inviting to someone looking for the next step toward recovery. One of the offerings was a weekly one-hour Beginner Pilates Mat class. I enrolled in that class almost five years ago and haven’t looked back since. I have enjoyed learning and practicing simple Pilates exercises and movements while lying on a mat, sitting on a chair or standing against a wall, all of which have helped increase my flexibility and strengthen my body. In addition, practicing the basic movements at home, in a gym or a hotel room have bolstered my energy level and reduced my pain significantly. I’ve been able to avoid a second surgery to remove the “hardware” in my shoulder and am mostly pain free!

Just to provide a little more insight into my experience with some of the expert PPED instructors at HSS, I would like to spotlight Katherine Shapiro, a Pilates instructor, who displays a magical combination of warmth and expertise. As a student of Romana Kryzanowska, an amazing teacher, free spirit and niece of the famed Joseph Pilates, Katherine received training in the original Pilates Studio. She is among the few authentic representatives of the Pilates Method in this country! Her dance background–a BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase–coupled with a life-long exploration and practice of Pilates and Yoga, have given her an air of grace, flexibility, and strength. She describes her pride in this dedication to movement and anatomy–as sparked by a warning from a doctor when she was thirteen–NOT to exercise because of scoliosis, tight hips and flat feet! That commitment enables Katherine to generously and authoritatively instruct each class participant–mindful of injuries, physical limitations and pain–in the proper development of a strong core. Her devoted students marvel at the countless tools she employs to teach and inspire. Katherine’s remarkable talent, coupled with wit and drive keep her students engaged. No session ever disappoints.

In addition to Pilates, I’ve also participated in other weekly classes such as Therapeutic Yoga, Core Stabilization and Cardio Fusion (a detailed description of each offering is documented in the PPED bi-annual brochure). The Therapeutic Yoga class, led by Nancy O’Brien, is new to me this winter. She, too, an expert in her field, is a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, a certified Integral Yoga Hatha I, Hatha II, and Restorative Yoga teacher. Nancy is a graduate of Therapeutic Yoga Training and Yoga4Arthritis. Nancy displays a comforting and welcoming presence to all who enter–what I like to describe as–her “Special Sanctuary”. A unique and life-changing experience can be had by any student entering and embracing Nancy’s “atmosphere”. Each of us is asked to perform to his/ her ability and pain threshold. Nancy graciously emphasizes the importance of compassion for one’s self and others. And as she demonstrates proper breathing techniques, she instructs her students in how to be physically– as well as–emotionally grounded. She actually suggests invoking gratitude for one’s own limbs and being. Questions and problems are welcomed, shared and even solved. Recently, a longtime student told of having her wallet stolen. After initially reacting with fear and agitation, she called upon Nancy’s teachings and calmed herself by breathing deeply and slowly. Not bad for a seventy six year old student! With the most recent five week session, I was the “newcomer” in Nancy’s Therapeutic Yoga class. After class, Nancy spoke with me privately to learn about my life, physical condition, past injuries and current pain. I soon became an integral class member–as the “veterans” empathized with my confession of aching feet. One even offered advice: roll the ball of a foot gently and slowly over a wine bottle– preferably an empty one!

These classes have been such a great experience that I’m also thinking about participating in T’ai Chi Chih, Dance for Fitness and Fun, and even Hand Yoga class! The HSS class instructors are hand-picked and world renowned for their expertise. Each emphasizes the importance of strengthening the core muscles, as well as simple breathing techniques that help revitalize the mind and body. Every participant, in the small and relatively affordable classes, receives individual attention tailored to his/her physical limitations, current medical conditions, and past injuries. The instruction is offered in a compassionate, knowledgeable, clear and quite often, humorous manner. Students are easily able to continue the learned routines at home with literally no equipment other than a floor, a chair, and perhaps a pillow! As new students join a class, they are welcomed and feel at ease within the first five minutes. The warmth relayed by the teachers engenders a camaraderie among the students that leads to friendships within and outside the classroom.

HSS has a comforting and welcoming atmosphere. I feel as if this is my second home.  I have been looking forward to sharing my story with the community, and am honored that I have been given the chance to voice gratitude to HSS for its amazing offerings. I encourage you to join me and let HSS know our needs for more programs – make your opinion count today by completing the HSS Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), which can be found at this link.

I hope to see you in one of PPED’s uplifting classes so that you, too, can enjoy this unique world!

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.

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  1. I am also a Pilates student of Katherine Shapiro ( no relation!). I am 66 years old and also have had various injuries before I began working with Katherine 3 years ago. I concur, she is remarkable. She is talented, compassionate, lovely, warm and extremely knowledgeable about the workings of the body as well as the mind. She inspires me to work harder (and smarter), to stand up taller, to sit like the body was meant to sit. I give her five stars and my gratitude.