After shoulder injury, Advantage Orthopedics helps young baseball player get back in the game

By Kristy Bleizeffer Nov 8, 2017

Kelly Cloninger, 17, hurt his left shoulder in June 2016 during the last game of his baseball season. After surgery with Lee Stowell, M.D., Cloninger returned to the baseball diamond better than ever.

Kelly Cloninger, 17, has tried most positions during his 10 years in baseball: pitcher, catcher, first base, third base, right field, left field and short stop. 

But in June 2016, he had to wonder how much longer he’d be able to play. 

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The Natrona County High School sophomore was playing left field for the Casper Crush during the last tournament of the season. He knew the pop fly would be a tough catch when he jumped in the air to grab it. He came down hard and rolled on his left shoulder: “I knew instantly that something was wrong,” said Kelly, now a junior. “I tried to sit up and realized my shoulder was throbbing, and I thought maybe I had popped it out of joint.”

In fact, his shoulder was displaced down into his armpit. A teammate’s mother, who was also a nurse, popped it back into place. It felt better after several days of rest, and Kelly went to see Lee Stowell, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Advantage Orthopedics and Neurosurgery. Dr. Stowell advised several more weeks of rest and physical therapy to allow the joint to heal.

His shoulder felt better – at first. Then it popped out of joint two more times. On the third time, he had to go the Emergency Room to put it back in place. A follow-up MRI showed extensive damage to the front and back of the shoulder. Dr. Stowell told Kelly surgery would be the only way to rebuild and repair his shoulder, and it was his best chance to be able to return to the baseball diamond.

“Dr. Stowell was wonderful with Kelly,” said Tammy Cloninger, Kelly’s mother. “He kept a sense of humor in discussing our options and was also firm in letting Kelly know what recovery would be like and potential limitations he may have moving forward with baseball or other sports. Although the healing time would be quite long after surgery, we were confident in our decision and that Dr. Stowell and his team would take excellent care of Kelly.”

Kelly had surgery on Dec. 19 and wore an arm sling for six weeks. He then completed nearly five months of physical therapy, working to regain his strength and range of motion. And the end of May of this year – 11 months after the injury and after several orthopedic appointments and many hours of therapy – Kelly was released to full activity. In September, he made the 2017-2018 Casper Crush baseball team.

“Dr. Stowell and his team were with us every step of the way,” Tammy said. “We can’t say enough about the kindness and caring his team gave us through the entire process. It is such a tough thing to see your child struggle and have to go through a major surgery. The care team and the confidence they had through those months made all the difference.”

And what about Kelly’s arm? How did it fare through another season of Casper Crush baseball: “The shoulder feels great. I can’t even tell there was ever anything wrong with it.”

R. Lee Stowell

R. Lee Stowell M.D.

Dr. Lee Stowell is an orthopedic surgeon and completed a fellowship in shoulder surgery at the CORE Institute in Phoenix. He was selected chief resident of the Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center-Hamot; Shriners Hospital for Children in Erie, Pa. 

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