WORTHINGTON — For a normally active and healthy person like Donna Kempema, a slight injury that resulted in a little pain was initially something to ignore.
“I’m busy all the time,” said Kempema. “I’m always doing things — gardening, cooking, moving stuff around — and I probably just overdid it.”
A resident of rural Worthington, Kempema is also a former para-professional with District 518 and drove a school bus for a number of years.
“I’m always picking up things outside, and I don’t like waiting for my husband [Bruce] to help me,” she admitted.
Looking back, the energetic, right-handed 63-year-old realizes that the point at which she flipped the switch from slight overuse of her right arm to potential injury was when she moved a “really big cupboard” from one side of her house to the other.
“It is very heavy, and I know I should have waited for Bruce but I just thought, ‘I can do this on my own,’” recalled Kempema.
“I knew right away that I shouldn’t have, but by then I was already halfway done.”
Thereafter, Kempema, the mother of three adult children and grandmother of eight, began experiencing pain and mobility issues that were brand new to her.
“It started last November,” she said. “And I finally went in to the doctor in April.”
Kempema attempted on her own to treat the increasingly troublesome pain in her right shoulder and arm; lasting improvement, however, proved elusive.
“I was icing it frequently, and the ice would make it better for a time so I’d go back to my usual routine — and then it would get worse again,” she said.
“It was very, very painful.”
Simple movements began causing Kempema to wince, and she unconsciously compensated to prevent further suffering.
“I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I was using my left arm all the time,” she said.
“I couldn’t hoe or pull weeds in my garden, I couldn’t mash potatoes, I couldn’t reach, I couldn’t lift — I couldn’t even reach up to put away cups in the cupboard,” Kempema continued.
“Just all those little things you take for granted, but I couldn’t do them [without experiencing pain]. Finally I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’”
More than four months after she had first began having problems with her arm and shoulder, Kempema made an appointment with Brenda Bullerman, PA-C at Sanford Health Adrian Clinic. By then, she was essentially not moving her arm much at all.
“It was terrible,” she confirmed.
Bullerman diagnosed Kempema with severe tendinitis — a condition Kempema soon learned was not uncommon.
“Now I know that a lot of people have tendinitis,” said Kempema. “It’s kind of shocking to hear how many others have it or have had it.”
Bullerman offered several treatment options, the most appealing of which to Kempema was physical therapy.
Once Kempema began twice-weekly sessions over a six-week period with Austyn Thier at Sanford Worthington Medical Center’s physical therapy department, relief was on its way.
“I worked with Austyn the whole time and she was awesome,” stressed Kempema. “I did EVERYTHING she told me to do because I was determined I was going to get better, no matter what.”
Kempema said Thier used “baby steps” to lead her to healing.
“She started me out with light weights that got progressively heavier,” said Kempema. “She did easy stretching at first and then increased that.
“My right arm had grown so weak, a lot weaker than my left arm.”
As Kempema proceeded through the regimen with Thier’s professional expertise as her guide, her arm and shoulder gradually strengthened and improved — and most importantly, the pain lessened.
“I’ve continued the exercises and stretching she told me to do,” assured Kempema. “It took some time, but it was so worth it in the long run.
“And it was helpful to have skilled physical therapy treatment so close by; it was very convenient,” Kempema continued.
“I liked Austyn because she was very patient and encouraging — plus, I could really see the results as we went along.”
Kempema says her right side is now back to normal, and she is again engaged in the usual activities of her life.
After living with incapacitating pain for months, Kempema is grateful for the ability to do the “little things,” like putting away dishes, she had previously taken for granted.
“It was so dumb I didn’t seek medical help sooner,” Kempema admitted. “If you have a minor injury or pain, get it checked out sooner than later; I should not have waited so long.
“But I’m so happy I finally went in. I’m enjoying the summer much more than the winter.”