September 2018

Rick Zuti is addicted to the adrenalin rush you can only get from jumping out of an airplane. When he retired after a 20-year career as a paratrooper in the army, he dreamed of learning to sky dive, but years passed, and it didn’t seem like he would be able to make his dream a reality. Then on his 57th birthday, he looked in the mirror and told himself that now was the time.

While Rick had more than two decades of experience as a paratrooper, his military training didn’t include body flight, or freefalling, so he sought out the training he needed to get his first sky diving license. His wife, Debbie, was supportive but she thought this was going to be a one-time thing that Rick had to get out of his system. Instead sky diving became Rick’s obsession.

Parachute Hard Open Yanks His Shoulder Backwards

Rick had just completed his B license in sky diving, (the second of four levels) when he experienced something in the air that had never happened before. He had a hard open when he pulled his parachute and the jolt yanked his left shoulder backwards.

“I went to open my parachute and when it opened I felt like I hit the ground,” said Rick. “I quickly realized that my arm didn’t work too well anymore.”

Surgery Followed by Physical Therapy

Knowing he was badly hurt, Rick went to the Emergency Room at River’s Edge Hospital. The ER team assessed and stabilized his condition. A few days later, he had an appointment with Dr. Jesse Botker at the Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic who recommended surgery.

The surgery needed to repair his arm took place at River’s Edge Hospital and before he knew it, Rick was home recovering with his arm in a sling. The injury, though serious, was not as bad as first thought and Rick started therapy to get back his mobility – and his life. That’s when he met Matt Tuggle, Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) at River’s Edge.

PT Focused on Patient’s Goals to Sky Dive Again

Matt customized a regime of movements to help Rick stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons in his arm. At first, Rick couldn’t see the point of the exercises that were included in his therapy, but Matt focused on Rick’s personal goal to jump out of airplanes again.

“I was really surprised at how receptive Matt was to my needs,” said Rick. “He asked me, ‘What’s your biggest goal?’ and I said, to get back in the sky.”

Rick showed Matt some of the movements that he needed to do in a sky dive, such as pull the brake lines, and Matt designed a customized regime of exercises that would slowly increase the strength and range of motion in Rick’s arms and shoulders. Through the next few weeks, Matt helped Rick stay on track with his recovery, giving him suggestions for modifications that were always based on Rick’s goals.

“Pretty much everything we did in therapy had to do with being able to maneuver my parachute. I couldn’t believe how detailed Matt’s training was to my specific goals,” said Rick.

Sky Diver Isn’t Grounded for Long

Before he could get back in the air, Rick needed to return to work and this didn’t go as well as he thought it would at first. Rick admits that he had slacked off on therapy and the price he paid was pain that resulted from his increased activity. When he got back on track with his stretching and exercises, he was successful in transitioning back to work.

Three months after his injury, you would never know that Rick had encountered a setback that grounded his sky diving passion. He’s made about 40 jumps since his recovery and continues to do the exercises that he learned from Matt, though now he does them at the gym and has pumped them up by adding more weight.

As he met his goal to get back in the air, Rick’s thoughts were on Matt and the key role that he had played in helping him resume sky diving. At the first chance he got, he had his wife take a picture of him jumping so he could give it to Matt.

“Matt needs to know that I’m back in the air,” said Rick.