It takes a rock star to know one: just ask Moline native and professional guitarist, Kerry Tucker, founder of one of Quad Cities’ well-known and successful bands, “Einstein’s Sister.”
“I love to play rock and roll, but my hand surgeon has definitely reached rock star status in my book,” he says. Kerry can still hit the right notes, thanks to a wrist-saving surgery performed by veteran hand surgeon, Dr. Thomas VonGillern, ORA Orthopedics.
A virtuoso known in guitar circles, Kerry’s musical journey spans more than two decades of playing the guitar in Nashville, New York, clubs, studios, and concert venues across the U.S. In addition to performing, Kerry also composes music for commercials, film, and digital platforms. Teaching guitar is also a priority — passing along his love for music to the next generation of guitar students at his alma mater, St. Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa.
Kerry reached what few professional musicians attain, plenty of professional and creative work that has won the respect of his peers and endeared fans. If life is a gig, then there was no time for the kind of excruciating wrist pain he was experiencing that threatened his livelihood.
“About three or four years ago, my left wrist started to hurt, and the pain only got worse. I saw a lot of doctors, but no one could really help me. To make things worse, at the time, I was playing through the pain every weekend on the road, while still teaching guitar full time. It was really insane.”
Kerry kept his grueling musical schedule, despite any medical explanation or solution for his pain. Then he met ORA Orthopedics’ Hand Surgeon, Dr. Thomas VonGillern.
“When I met Kerry, the pain in his wrist occurred when he turned his palm up and down,” says Dr. VonGillern. “I have seen many cases similar to Kerry’s situation where the wrist pain originates on the side of the little finger. There were two bones in his wrist that were rubbing the cartilage in between that caused the pain.” Dr. VonGillern explained to Kerry that his ulna was too long and was rubbing abnormally. The ulna is the long bone in the forearm that stretches from the elbow to the small finger. “I saw a lot of docs,” says Kerry. “But it was Dr. VonGillern who diagnosed me immediately.”
“Having an abnormally long arm bone can actually happen at any age,” Dr. VonGillern says. “We see it frequently, even in younger adults. It’s also common for people who do repetitive motion. Kerry is a phenomenal guitar player and surgery was the right solution.”
While Kerry was relieved to know Dr. VonGillern had a surgical answer that could save his career, the diagnosis came while he was teaching full time and playing gigs every weekend. “Dr. VonGillern knew I had to keep playing until my musical obligations were met. He stayed with me. I knew I needed the surgery if I was ever going to be able to perform or teach long term.”
“He’s a guy with reputation and has to live up to his commitments. Our team at ORA made it work and kept him playing while protecting his livelihood. That’s what we are here for. He was having enough pain, and he couldn’t do what he loved. In essence, we knew we had to save his career. We wanted to allow him to be a virtuoso, and you can’t have pain and hit the high notes.”
When the time came for surgery, Dr. VonGillern performed an outpatient procedure he’s done many times in his more than 30-year orthopedic career called an “ulnar shortening osteotomy.” Dr. VonGillern explains that he makes a four to five inch incision at the wrist, then removes a small section of the ulna to shorten it. He then pulls the ends of the bones together, fastens them with a metal plate, and that takes the pressure off the wrist. “We see a lot of people who have this condition. Most experience pain in the ulna on the little finger side of the wrist, and it hurts to move it.”
After a successful recovery and rehab, Kerry is able to hit the right notes and says he’s regained 95 percent of his range of motion with no pain. “Dr. VonGillern nailed it. The whole treatment went like clockwork and he made all the right calls. He’s a rock star at what he does.”
Music to our ears, Kerry. Keep on rocking.