Body Proud: Willibald Panzer
Willibald Panzer (61) is passionate about sport. In 2010 he injured his left shoulder while playing beach volleyball. When the pain became unbearable, Willibald decided to have an artificial shoulder fitted. After the operation and subsequent rehabilitation therapy he was able to recover full movement in his shoulder. Willibald no longer has any pain and can play sports again. “It’s a miracle”, he says. Now he wants to use his experience to “help people faced with the decision on whether to undergo an operation”. That’s why he’s pleased to support the “Körperstolz” (Body Proud) campaign.
Mr Panzer, what’s important to you in life?
My family, my love of nature and a healthy lifestyle. Those are things that mean a lot to me.
Sport also plays a major role in your life. Your shoulder injury followed by the operation must have had drastic consequences.
I’ve always played sports. For me, it’s simply a question of having a healthy body and doing something for that purpose. After the operation, I was concerned about not being able to do the types of sport I prefer – mountain biking, bicycle racing, ski touring or cross-country skiing using the skate technique. Initially, I left out skate skiing completely. But last December I took it up again and it was great. I’d never have thought it would go so well. There’re only a couple of things where I’m really limited: at the moment I can only think of volleyball, basketball and handball. But I would have had to cut back on these anyway because of my age. Otherwise, there’s nothing I can’t do and would like to do.
So tell us about your shoulder. What happened?
Everything started in 2010 with a beach volleyball injury. At the time I thought it wasn’t so serious and so didn’t have it examined. It was only two years later – looking back I still can’t believe it took me so long – that I went to the doctor because movement in the shoulder was becoming increasingly limited and the pain was almost unbearable. Until then I took pain killers and put ointment on. The X-rays and CT showed that the joint was dislocated and that fluid from the inflammation had caused arthritis. My doctor recommended having an artificial shoulder fitted.
What was your reaction to the diagnosis?
I was shocked because I thought the pain was related to ligaments and muscles. At first, I had trouble coming to terms with the thought of an operation. At the time I was 55 years old. It’s not normally an age when you get an artificial replacement. Initially I was given injections into the joint for 30 months. The pain went away but I still had my dickey (?) shoulder. Then my doctor saw that the muscles were degenerating. I tried to build up the muscles again with special exercises in the gym. But that made things worse and finally I had to stop exercising because of the pain. And in 2014 a second medical opinion confirmed that at some point there would be no way around an artificial joint.
What effect did the injury have on your daily life?
The pain was really bad at night. I couldn’t sleep properly. I was hardly able to do any sport at all. The only thing I could do was bicycle racing because you don’t use your shoulders so much.
Was the step to have the operation a difficult decision or was it more a relief?
There came a time where I couldn’t go on. The longer I’d have waited, the more the bone would have worn away and the chances of recovery would have decreased accordingly. But it was still a tough decision to make because if the artificial joint doesn’t work, you can’t undo it. So I thought, perhaps I can live better now with the pain and limitations than afterwards with the artificial joint. My doctor gave me the telephone number of a patient of my age who also did a lot of sport and had already had his shoulder operated on. His positive experience reassured me.
In this situation, how important is talking to others affected in the same way?
It’s very important to talk. With my consent, my doctor gives my phone number to other patients and I tell them about my experience. That’s also the reason why I’m taking part in the “Körperstolz” campaign. I’d like to reassure people who are going through a similar experience. Of course, you always have to say that every person’s body is different and the result won’t necessarily always be as good as it was for me.
What method did they use for your operation?
It always depends on how well preserved the bone and rotator cuff are. The latter was in good condition in my case so they were able to attach the artificial joint with a socket. Otherwise, they use a pin which is longer, of course, and so you lose more bone mass. The advantage of a socket is that if you had an accident, for example, they can still insert a pin. The technology and procedure have improved a lot in recent years. They create 3D models to ensure an exact fit. I personally benefited from these advances and things will improve even more in the future.
Can you feel the artificial joint? Is your arm heavier?
No, I don’t feel the implant at all and my shoulder feels completely normal again. I notice minimal differences when doing my stretching exercises but the exercises make these differences disappear. The implant is very light and is mostly made – as far as I know – of titanium. It’s supposed to last for around 15 years – depending on how much I use the joint.
Did you have to rest for a long time after the operation?
No, you can move your shoulder quite quickly – about two or three days after the operation. But rehabilitation is very intensive. For six months I did remedial gymnastics and exercises to strengthen the muscles – that really paid off. I was operated on in October 2015 and in March 2016 I was able to take up sport again.
That was easier because your body was in good condition, perhaps?
Yes, because the muscles are really important for the whole shoulder joint. And my muscles were well developed before the operation. If that hadn’t been the case, the implant wouldn’t work as well as it does.
Where did you get the motivation to stick to your rehabilitation therapy?
The progress I made motivated me a lot and I wanted to stay active as long as possible. After all, I’ve got the mountains on my doorstep. Also, I was used to training, even though the training was different this time.
What made you join the “Körperstolz” campaign?
My doctor told me about the campaign and encouraged me to participate. I thought, why not? I hope that by participating I can help people who are also faced with this decision. Recently I was invited to a conference to answer the audience’s questions. I enjoy that. You can help people and take away their fear. It’s important to have such opportunities.
Is there any particular piece of advice you would give?
Believe in medicine and above all, go to the doctor quicker than I did. I would always get a second opinion as well. It’s a major operation and you have to weigh your decision well in advance. But you shouldn’t be afraid of the operation.
How would you end the sentence: “I am proud of my body because…”
I am proud that continuous physical training throughout my life created the best conditions to come through such an operation so well. A healthy body was a good foundation for the operation and also for me getting back so quickly to my previous performance levels in my daily life and in the sports I do.