Kerry's shoulder surgerygoes off without a hitch

Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, accompanies him into the hospital Wednesday. Steven Senne / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat John Kerry had complication-free outpatient surgery Wednesday to repair a tear in his right shoulder and bicep tendons and will be back shaking voters’ hands soon, although not too forcefully.

The four-term Massachusetts senator planned to be off the presidential campaign trail for the remainder of the week. Dr. Bertram Zarins, chief of sports medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said Kerry would be in pain for a few days and probably in need of an ice pack and narcotic painkillers.

Zarins said Kerry was smiling and talking shortly after coming out of the 45-minute procedure. “He joked a little bit and said, ‘I hope I didn’t reveal any state secrets,”’ Zarins told reporters in a conference call.

Kerry tore his subscapularis tendon, one of the tendons that make up the rotator cuff, in January while campaigning in Iowa. He wrenched his right shoulder while bracing himself during an abrupt stop on his campaign bus.

Zarins told reporters Monday that Kerry would have to forgo temporarily the most time-honored tradition in politics — shaking hands. Kerry said he didn’t get those orders.

“That’s not what he told me,” Kerry told reporters Tuesday. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ when I read that.”

After surgery, Zarins said he wouldn’t restrict Kerry’s activity, but that pain would limit his right arm motion. He said Kerry’s rehabilitation would probably just involve him leaning over and swinging his arm like pendulum. Kerry could gradually reintroduce movements until a complete recovery, with “heavy use” in several months, Zarins said.

“I think he’ll be shaking hands fairly quickly,” said Zarins, who also treats the New England Patriots, the New England Revolution and the Boston Bruins sports teams. “We’re not going to tell him not to do it.”

Stitches out in a week, 10 days
Kerry, 60, was under general anesthesia for the surgery. Zarins said he made an incision about an inch and a half long, discovered a small tear in the bicep tendon next to the subscapularis and then made a smaller, second incision and repaired both. He wasn’t sure how many stitches it took to close the wound, but said he would evaluate Kerry over the next few days and remove the stitches in a week to 10 days.

Entering the hospital, Kerry joked about the large contingent of reporters on hand and the outcome of the surgery, saying, “I feel great. I’m looking forward to getting it done. I’ll see you in a few hours, I hope.”

As he did before prostate surgery last year, Kerry entered the hospital wearing a leather bomber jacket bearing his swiftboat platoon’s patch from the Vietnam War for luck.

“I’ll be back faster than you can blink,” the Massachusetts senator told the Building Trades Legislative Conference two hours before going in for surgery.

Kerry’s primary physician released a letter this week stating that he is fit and in “excellent health.” The senator enjoys exercise, especially outdoor activities such as windsurfing and bike riding, and complains that his staff doesn’t schedule enough time for workouts.

Ski vacation
However, he went on a weeklong ski and snowboarding vacation recently and occasionally throws a football or baseball with staff between campaign stops. He said that type of arm movement doesn’t bother him, but that his shoulder would hurt with different movements.

He demonstrated the painful action to reporters by moving his arms as if he were grasping for a bear hug and said it hurt “a couple of times lifting babies.”

Zarins thought the tear was minor and advised Kerry to see if it would heal on its own. But it continued to bother Kerry, so he decided to repair it now rather than let it weaken further. Zarins said that could have caused more problems in the future, as opposed to a relatively simple procedure now.

Kerry originally injured his right shoulder in 1992 after a fall from his bicycle. This injury is new, Zarins said, although the earlier accident could have made the shoulder more vulnerable to injury.

Kerry interrupted his campaign schedule for surgery twice last year. He had a cancerous prostate removed in February 2003 and minor outpatient surgery to remove a wart on his eyelid the following month.

No heart concerns
Follow-up medical exams indicate the prostate surgery was successful, Kerry’s regular physician, Dr. Gerald Doyle, said Monday. Normal blood pressure and low cholesterol suggest Kerry has “a lower than average risk” for heart disease for a man his age, Doyle wrote.

Kerry felt well enough for a recent weeklong skiing and snowboarding vacation in Idaho, but reported feeling pain after certain movements and chose to have the tendon surgically repaired, Zarins said.

Kerry interrupted his campaign schedule for surgery twice last year. He had a cancerous prostate removed in February 2003, followed a month later by minor outpatient surgery to remove a wart from an eyelid.