How Simple Things Can Mean the Most – Tom Underwood’s Success Story

“As simple as it sounds to be able to walk without pain is amazing. So many people take that for granted.” – Tom Underwood, CACC Patient

Running, bicycling, weightlifting. Tom Underwood has always been an active man, even running marathons in college. He earns his living as a firefighter and loves to travel. There is no room in his life for pain. So, when injuries affected both of his knees, he had surgeries to repair the problems. Seven surgeries, to be exact. And after that seventh surgery in 2010, Tom vowed he would never have another. But the pain returned with a vengeance. Tom Remembers, “I walked around for years in so much discomfort. I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. I wasn’t walking around at work. I was a professional firefighter for 31 years. Everything was uncomfortable. Then, people started pointing out that I wasn’t walking right.” That’s when Tom decided, with advice from his doctor, to have one more knee surgery, a partial knee replacement. “I will be 58 in September. I really didn’t want to have this. I put it off for as long as I could.”

After the surgery, it was time to find a Physical Therapist Tom could trust. He wanted someone who embraced his long-term plans and had experience helping people get back to an active lifestyle. His goals included simply walking without pain, bike riding, and there was even a small glimmer of hope that he could enjoy one of his lifetime passions again: weightlifting. But Tom was at peace with the possibility that he wouldn’t be able to go back to doing what he loved. “No one was going to tell me, yes it’s a good idea to get back to doing squats and deadlifts.” But he found Barrie Jo Wambold, PT, DPT at CACC Physical Therapy. She was not so sure Tom should give up on his dream. Tom recalls one of the first conversations he had with Barrie Jo, “She felt like I was going to be able to go back to it. She said from the beginning that Hulk Hogan had more injuries than me, and he went back to doing it. She was pretty confident I could do it and that was so encouraging.”

The hard work began right away, and Tom immediately felt comfortable in the Easton clinic. “They have a family atmosphere. It’s a small space physically. Not like some PT places where it’s like walking into a massive gym. This is more of a family.” He rode the stationary bike and performed exercises aimed at restoring his balance and strength. Tom remembers how Barrie Jo prepared him to get back to fighting fires. “She was personally concerned about me being able to climb a ladder. They actually brought in a 6-foot ladder to work with. She took range of motion measurements, so she knew I was able to do my job.” Tom was also diligent about performing his at home exercise program, increasing his odds of great results. “You aren’t going to get better right away, but you aren’t going to get better at all if you don’t do it. Find the motivation. Kick yourself in the butt and get going! Do it.”

Tom spent two and a half months with Barrie Jo and her team and is back to riding his bicycle 30 miles at a time even before he left their care. He hikes and can perform all the duties his job requires. But what about weightlifting? Tom reveals, “Again, I didn’t have any ambitions of weightlifting again. I would mess around a little and I noticed it wasn’t causing me pain.” Then one day, a little over 5 months after his partial knee replacement, Tom squatted 235 pounds! “I had the range of motion, and it wasn’t causing pain.”

Barrie Jo was right. With hard work during the rehabilitation process, Tom was given the tools to get back to enjoying one of his passions again. Barrie Jo reflects on her journey with Tom. “(He) was such a motivated patient and a pleasure to work with.  We came up with a specific plan that worked for him, and he was eventually able to get back to powerlifting. Tom is very active and as a therapist you must adjust your treatments to the clients level and listen to their goals.  This is what makes my job so special.”

What’s next for Tom? “There’s always something else on the horizon. Honestly right now, I’m thankful I can just walk places without being in pain. I do a lot of traveling. I had visited places that were once-in-a-lifetime destinations that I’ll never get to again. I walked around in pain and couldn’t enjoy it. As simple as it sounds to be able to walk without pain is amazing. So many people take that for granted.”