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North Hills Monthly

Helping Your Bones, Joints, and Muscles Perform Their Best at Every Age

Jul 30, 2019 08:39AM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

John Fowler, MD and Christopher Schmidt, MD, UPMC Passavant

UPMC Orthopaedic Care experts at UPMC Passavant apply the latest treatments, techniques, and state-of-the-art technologies to care—all focused on keeping area residents moving at every age.

Bone and joint pain can affect people of any age at any time. Orthopaedic doctors specialize in treating a full range of chronic and acute musculoskeletal conditions and disorders, and work closely with their patients to determine the best way to alleviate pain. Most often, orthopaedic experts will first focus on nonsurgical solutions, but when surgery is needed, they often use arthroscopic and other minimally invasive approaches whenever possible to promote faster and less painful healing.

At UPMC Passavant McCandless and UPMC Passavant Cranberry, you’ll find UPMC Orthopaedic Care doctors whose specialties include:

•  Foot and ankle

•  Podiatry

•  General orthopaedics

•  Spine

•  Hand, elbow, and shoulder

•  Sports medicine

•  Hip preservation

•  Trauma

•  Joint replacement

These doctors use the latest diagnostic tests to evaluate the extent of damage or disease, and determine the best approach for treatment of conditions such as arthritis, sports injuries, carpal tunnel, tendon injuries, and fractures. Many of these procedures are completed on an outpatient basis. It is important to find an orthopaedic expert who can guide you through diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and aftercare.

A Minor Injury, Unexpected Impact

At first, the July 2018 accident that injured Lorna Brown-Abbott’s left index finger didn’t seem too serious. Preparing to catch a return flight to Pittsburgh from Atlanta, the Gibsonia resident struggled to lift her suitcase onto the baggage carrousel. “There was a plexiglass barrier, and I’m just 5’3” tall,” she explains. Once over the barrier, her suitcase—supported on the tips of her fingers—fell to the left, bending and twisting her left index finger.

“I thought it was just sprained,” she says, “but I soon realized my finger wasn’t working right. It was so weak that I couldn’t pick up a piece of paper, tie my shoes, or hold a fork to eat.” 

Knowing the injury would require a specialist’s care, she turned to H. James Pfaeffle, MD, PhD, a UPMC Orthopaedic Care surgeon at Tri Rivers Musculoskeletal Centers, who specializes in hand, wrist, and upper extremity care. 

At her first visit with Dr. Pfaeffle in November 2018, the two agreed to start with nonsurgical treatment. “He gave me an injection that helped ease the discomfort, but the finger was getting worse,” says Lorna. When further tests showed that the ligament did not heal, Dr. Pfaeffle performed outpatient surgery in March 2019 at UPMC Passavant Cranberry.

Lorna completed six weeks of occupational therapy at the UPMC Lemieux Complex in Cranberry. “Although I’m still recovering, I have my range of motion back and I’m doing very well!” she says.

UPMC Passavant is something of a “home” for Dr. Pfaeffle, who grew up in the North Hills. “There are many people at UPMC Passavant who helped shape and influence me,” says Dr. Pfaeffle, who spent the first 13 years of his career as a medical research scientist. “I found that I preferred interacting with patients more than spending the time in the lab. With all the advancements in orthopaedic medicine, there’s so much we can do to restore function and relieve pain for patients.”

A mountain biker enthusiast, Dr. Pfaeffle serves on the board of Trail Pittsburgh and volunteers his time to create safe and environmentally friendly trails in North Park and throughout the region.

Restoring Motion After Years of Pain

Connie McWilliams endured osteoarthritis in her joints for much of her life. After living for years with the pain of a fixated left shoulder, the 73-year-old North Hills resident learned she needed shoulder replacement surgery.

Following a careful search for an orthopaedic surgeon with extensive experience in shoulder replacement surgery, she met with Christopher C. Schmidt, MD, a UPMC Orthopaedic Care surgeon at Orthopaedic Specialists-UPMC. In addition to shoulder replacement surgery, Dr. Schmidt’s expertise includes surgery to repair large and massive rotator cuff tears, total joint replacement, reverse shoulder arthroplasty, and shoulder stabilization surgery. Connie felt Dr. Schmidt was a good fit, and selected him to perform surgery on her left shoulder in 2015 at UPMC Passavant McCandless.

According to Dr. Schmidt, UPMC Passavant is one of the leading hospitals in the UPMC system in shoulder replacement surgeries. “I think it’s a great environment for both the patient and doctors,” he says. “We have patients coming from as far as Erie and Wheeling for care and they’re thrilled with their outcomes. The nursing staff is terrific, the operating facilities are state-of-the-art, and most patients can begin rehabilitation and therapy immediately after surgery.”

After her successful surgery and positive physical therapy experience at UPMC Centers for Rehab Services, Connie knew Dr. Schmidt was the right choice to replace her right shoulder a year later. I just think he’s terrific,” says Connie. “I trust him 100 percent.” She even recommended him to several friends. 

“In fact, my husband, Frank, went to Dr. Schmidt to have his shoulder replaced in June,” she added with a laugh.

Connie, retired from UPMC as a manager of clinical operation in the Physician Services Division, said Dr. Schmidt emphasized the importance of post-surgery rehabilitation, which she credits as a crucial piece to her recovery from both operations. “After my surgery, Dr. Schmidt said, ‘I’ve done my job, now it’s time to do yours,’” she explains. “I did everything he told me to do, and I now have full range of motion in both shoulders.”

Hand Surgery Leads to a Better Night’s Sleep

Pittsburgh native and Warrendale resident John Fowler, MD, describes his orthopaedic specialty as helping patients “from their fingertips to their shoulders.” For Cindy Wilson, senior director of UPMC Community Supportive Services at UPMC Community Provider Services, that’s an exact description of the problems she was experiencing.

“Last fall, I started feeling numbness and pain in my right hand, but I ignored it for months until it crept up my arm to my shoulder—and then it started happening on the other side, too,” she said. This spring, the North Lima, Ohio, resident first saw a chiropractor for help, then her primary care doctor. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and was told to see an orthopaedic specialist. “By then, I wasn’t sleeping at all and the pain was getting worse,” she says.

Cindy decided to reach out to Dr. Fowler and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UPMC. “I was able to be seen by Dr. Fowler within a few days of my call. He used ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis and recommended surgery on both wrists,” says Cindy. “Within two weeks, I was at UPMC Cranberry for surgery on my right hand; two weeks later, I had my left hand done.”

Dr. Fowler is nationally recognized for his research on the use of a painless, 30-second ultrasound to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome, an alternative to traditional electrodiagnostic nerve tests that last 45 minutes.

“I’m fascinated by the anatomy of the hand and the complexity of hand surgeries,” he says. “So much can happen in the nerves, tendons, bones, and joints of the hand. In a typical day, I can do 10 operations and every one of them requires a different solution—from joint replacement and nerve decompression to tendon repair and fractures. It’s always interesting.”

Today, Cindy marvels at “how uneventful” her carpal tunnel surgery was. “When I woke up from the procedure, the pain was 100 percent gone—truly! All I had was a little Band-Aid® on the incision. The night of my second operation, I had the best sleep I’ve had in months. I’m so glad I had the procedure and feel lucky that Dr. Fowler was my surgeon.”

To Learn More 

To learn more about UPMC Orthopaedic Care services at UPMC Passavant McCandless and UPMC Passavant Cranberry, call 1-866-987-ORTHO or visit

Offices Serving UPMC Passavant and/or UPMC St. Margaret

UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex
Cranberry Twp., PA 16066

UPMC St. Margaret
Pittsburgh, PA 15215

Locations in:
UPMC Passavant – McCandless, 15237
UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, 16066

Locations in:
UPMC Passavant – McCandless, 15237
Mars, PA 16046
Butler, PA 16001
Slippery Rock, PA 16057
UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, 16066

Locations in:
UPMC St. Margaret, 15215
Natrona Heights, PA 15065


Locations in:
North Hills, PA 15237
Seven Fields, PA 16046
Fox Chapel, PA 15238

Wexford, PA 15090

Locations in:
Brackenridge, PA 15014
Cranberry Twp., PA 16066
Sewickley, PA 15044

Locations in:
Cranberry Twp., PA 16066
Natrona Heights, PA 15065