Jan’s Story: Conquering Osteoporosis at the UCSF Orthopaedic Institute

Author:  Laurel Skurko, Marketing Director, UCSF Radiology and Biomedical Imaging

When Jan fell, it was a shock. “I’ve been tearing up and down these four flights of stairs like a gazelle for 50 years!”

It’s a classic tale of a Type-A woman, she says. Feet clad in bobby socks, arms laden with clothes, wooden steps waxed like furniture, she hit the steps running and sailed off into space. The long-time yoga and Pilates aficionado figured she might be pretty sore for a while, and admonished herself to “buck up and go forth.”

However, this time the pain didn’t get better. It got worse. After four days, Jan went to her doctor. Maybe because Jan had always been such a go-getter, the doctor was somewhat unsympathetic to her plight. But the doctor did order X-rays of Jan’s ribs and her hip on the left side, and then sent her home saying she was fine. However, Jan was not fine. Her pain continued, and worsened to the point she was barely able to function.

“I am a determined and productive woman,” says Jan, but the pain from the fall curtailed her regular activities, even the gentlest yoga. In fact, she was unable to stand for more than a few moments at a time or comfortably lie down. Unhappy with the diagnosis provided by her regular doctor, Jan launched into other modalities—acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic care. All to no avail. The pain continued.

Eventually, Jan, who had not been referred to a specialist, decided to book an appointment with one herself. The initial visit and a computed tomography (CT) scan revealed fractured vertebrae, and the doctor recommended surgery. But was he the right doctor for Jan? She felt not. “Really, if I want anything serious done, I’m going to UCSF,” she says.

Jan was referred to the Skeletal Health Center, where she met with Aenor Sawyer, MD. Dr. Sawyer is an orthopedist who began her medical career with a 10-year stint as a physical therapist, giving her unique perspectives on individualized and comprehensive musculoskeletal care. Dr. Sawyer founded and directs the multidisciplinary Skeletal Health Service at the UCSF Orthopaedic Institute. Through detailed evaluation and an education program with Dr. Sawyer, Jan learned about her condition and what it would take to heal. “I knew I had osteopenia,” says Jan. But she didn’t realize how much that condition weakened her bones, making her more susceptible to fractures (broken bones). At the Skeletal Health Service, she learned that she actually had osteoporosis, the more severe form of low bone strength.

Dr. Sawyer performed a workup that guided a personalized treatment program to get Jan back on the track to recovery. But a lot of the healing was up to Jan and included what she needed to learn about keeping her bones healthy and safe.

“Dr. Sawyer said my balance is crummy, and she’s right,” says Jan. In addition to safe balance training exercises, Dr. Sawyer helped Jan implement a personalized fall prevention strategy. In the Skeletal Health Service, Jan was started on a physical therapy regimen and increased her vitamin D and calcium intake to strengthen her bones. She also gained individualized information that helped her make decisions about bone medications.

“I do anything and everything Dr. Sawyer advises. I believe in her. I totally trust her caring, her knowledge and her expertise. Those are the most important elements to healing,” shares Jan.

Jan hasn’t gotten back to yoga and Pilates yet, but her motto is, “She can, who knows she can!”

Of the care she received, Jan says, “Dr. Sawyer should be cloned. When you find a brilliant physician who cares, you heal. It is magical. Like the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end and you heal.”

Learn more about the Orthopaedic Institute and the specialized services offered.

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