Good Medicine

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Su Byron April 1, 2009

Heal Thyself

Dr. Bryan M. Beebe is a man of action. At 50-something (he doesn’t like to talk about his age), Beebe is tall and lanky with an athletic build. Because his work as a Sarasota endodontic surgeon requires long hours of standing and superior manual dexterity, he’s diligent about staying in tip-top shape. His quest for fitness keeps him constantly active. He’s enthusiastic about most sports, including tennis, racquetball, golf, swimming and skiing. But in the winter of 2006, his on-the-go lifestyle was rudely interrupted.

Beebe and his wife, Anita, were enjoying a winter ski vacation in Colorado. After a day on the slopes, the couple was leisurely skiing back to their condo, discussing plans for the evening. Then, Beebe says, everything went black.

Beebe later discovered that he’d been hit at high velocity by a "kamikaze" teen who was racing downhill with two friends. The teen lost control and collided at high speed with Beebe, whose head (fortunately, he was wearing a helmet) hit the catwalk, knocking him unconscious.

At the emergency room, he got the bad news. The impact had driven Beebe’s upper right arm into his shoulder socket, resulting in several fractures. (Later on, back home in Sarasota, Beebe found out that he had also torn his rotator cuff and bicep muscles.)

"I knew I might never be the same," he says. "My career was at risk. My lifestyle was at risk. I depend on my right arm for the work I do."

After various tests in Sarasota, Beebe’s doctor informed him that he would most likely need shoulder replacement surgery.

Going under the knife seemed like his only hope to regain full range of motion in his right arm and stop the pain. The doctor recommended that he wait about six weeks, until his fractures had fully healed.

Beebe knew that recovering from shoulder replacement surgery would prevent him from practicing for several months. He wasn’t happy about it but saw no alternative. "I resigned myself to surgery and hoped for the best," he says.

In the six-week interval before surgery, Beebe faithfully did the physical therapy his doctor had prescribed. On his own initiative, he also added yoga, massage, swimming and acupuncture—which helped the pain, but didn’t eliminate it. Beebe was depressed.

"I couldn’t even pick up my daughter without feeling pain," he says. "That really got to me. I started asking around for an alternative."

About a month before his scheduled surgery, his acupuncturist suggested that Beebe consult with Won Huh, a personal trainer who works at the downtown YMCA.

It’s no exaggeration to call Huh a legend in Sarasota’s fitness circles. Huh was a competitive bodybuilder in his homeland of Korea, winning the nation’s top title, Mr. Korea, in 1982. He’s a fitness instructor with 30 years of experience (24 of them here in the United Sates) and one simple goal: to help others stay healthy and fit. He has a huge local following: People will wait as long as it takes to sign on with him, and once they start, many work with him for years.

"I’d never heard of him," says Beebe. He laughs, remembering his initial skepticism. "[My acupuncuturist] made him seem like a mystical healer. I had my doubts."

But he made an appointment to see Huh anyway.

"He did very little talking," says Beebe. "He listened and watched. That intrigued me." But one of the few things Huh did say immediately impressed him.

"Huh told me that if I wanted to work with him, I would have to follow his every instruction to the letter. He said, ‘If you can’t do that, you’re wasting your time. And mine, too.’ When he said that, I realized his sincerity. That did it for me." Beebe decided to get with the program.

Huh was convinced of Beebe’s sincerity, and he fit Beebe into his packed schedule. "I liked him right away," says Huh. "I could tell that he was committed to getting better. I didn’t make promises about the surgery. But I had a strong intuition I’d be able to help him."

Before training could even begin, Huh spent time getting to know Beebe. That’s standard operating procedure for every personal trainer. But Huh takes it to another level. He finds out everything he can about each new client’s lifestyle, from his work to his eating choices.

"I have to be part private detective," jokes Huh. "My program goes beyond the actual training. It’s more holistic and involves details about lifestyle and habits."

Huh says that his immediate concern was that Beebe, despite the limited movement in his right arm, had returned to work. The doctor was squeezing in as many appointments as he could before the shoulder surgery. Huh devised a method to stabilize Beebe’s right arm while he performed his work. He ordered Beebe to eliminate all of his extracurricular exercises—along with the acupuncture. He also forbade Beebe to use his right arm for any load-bearing work.

Huh asks, "You know that saying: ‘No pain, no gain?’ That’s not my philosophy. The first step in healing a muscle injury is to avoid any motion that causes pain."

After telling him what not to do, Huh created an eight-to-12-week rehabilitation program, starting Beebe off with three sessions a week. These included pendular and simple range-of-motion exercises, followed by the gradual increasing of flexibility and resistance strength training. Each sequence involved 12 to 15 repetitions.

Huh emphasizes that at this stage of rehabilitation it’s imperative for the trainer to avoid more damage to the injured area. He records every detail in a log that he refers to during each session. Huh also trains clients to learn how to relax their muscles. "I talk to them constantly," he says, "to gauge how they’re feeling and to make absolutely sure they’re not overdoing it."

Huh’s program was incremental—a series of steps designed to gradually increase the range of motion and flexibility of Beebe’s affected arm and shoulder joints. The level of difficulty increased as the program progressed—at a snail’s pace.

"We can’t rush into this," Huh warned his new client. "If you go too fast, you could wind up worse than before."

Beebe and Huh kept at it and didn’t push it. Two weeks into the program, Beebe was surprised to see how much he’d improved. He got his hopes up—maybe he wouldn’t need surgery. His doctor, too, was very impressed.

"He was happy to see how much better I was," says Beebe. "But his opinion was that surgery would still be necessary when the rehabilitation ended."

At his next session, Beebe told Huh what the doctor had said. Huh’s response was simple: "Why not keep exercising forever? Why stop?"

To Beebe, it was an epiphany. Why stop? He didn’t. For the next five weeks, he kept working with Huh, gradually increasing his flexibility and strength. At the end of 10 weeks, he’d reached all of his rehabilitation target goals. But it wasn’t time to stop. Huh wouldn’t let him.

"Work is never over," Huh informed him.

Huh designed a "bridge program" for Beebe—a training program for clients who successfully complete a rehabilitation program. People who finish rehabilitation too soon and stop exercising entirely—or overdo it—often experience relapses, he says.

Huh eased Beebe into a three-week transitional program that addressed Beebe’s overall muscular and cardiovascular system. "We move from concentrating only on the injured area to building up the entire body," says Huh. "Everything’s connected. Even if it’s just the biceps that were initially affected, you need to retrain all of the muscles after an injury to gradually build up to your original range of motion and strength."

The 12-week milestone came and went. Beebe skipped the surgery. He didn’t need it.

Two years later, Beebe still hasn’t had the surgery. He’s regained 98 percent of the range of motion in his right shoulder and arm. He still trains with Huh two days a week; his regimen now includes cardiovascular training and a full range of other exercises.

"It’s not always fun," says Beebe. "But it’s kept me pain-free, in good health and, best of all, working. I give Huh the credit for having the perseverance to see me through this."

Huh is delighted to see his client—who has also become his friend—living the life he had before that fateful winter’s day. Beebe’s health is his happiness. But that’s true for all of Huh’s clients.

"My clients know how serious I am," says Huh. "My work goes beyond being a simple business transaction. When I help people overcome their injuries, I feel fulfilled."

What are the lessons?

For Beebe, that’s simple. "Avoid hotshot skiers," he jokes. All joking aside, he is back to skiing, although he’s more careful on the slopes.

"A personal trainer isn’t a substitute for a doctor or a miracle worker," says Huh. "On the other hand, a doctor isn’t a substitute for your own dedication to staying healthy. If you’re healthy, a personal trainer can help you stay healthy. If you’re in bad shape or injured, a personal trainer can help you improve. You still have to do the work; you still need the commitment. Ultimately, it’s up to you."

A closer look at the shoulder

The shoulder is one of the body’s moveable joints, and one of the most unstable. The ball joint of the upper arm is actually larger than the shoulder socket it fits into, creating a tendency to pop out. The shoulder joint itself is a convergence of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle), all joined at the top of the shoulder. Injury to the joint between the shoulder blade and clavicle can create a shoulder blade separation. Injury to the joint between arm bone and shoulder blade can result in a shoulder dislocation.

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