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Back on the Handball Court After Total Shoulder Replacement

Carlos Rivera of Skokie has been a dedicated athlete his entire life. Baseball, basketball…you name it. But since he was a teenager, handball has been his real passion. Now, at age 70, Rivera remains a competitive player and still racks up victories over much younger athletes.


Sidelined by Injury
Just a few years ago, Rivera’s handball days were numbered. When a debilitating shoulder condition threatened to take him out of the game for good, he turned to his frequent handball competitor for advice—Steven Levin, MD, a surgeon at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute.

While Rivera mustered through previous shoulder injuries, this time was different. The pain was so crushing Rivera could barely lift his arm or use his shoulder.

“Some of the guys started calling me ‘Flipper’” on the court, as I was just swatting at the ball,” he recalled.

Sports Smarts
An avid handball player and athlete himself, Dr. Levin has a keen understanding of sports injuries and the best care options available. For Rivera, he recommended a total shoulder replacement.

“There was no question Carlos had end-stage arthritis, bone-on-bone with no cartilage, and had large arthritic bone spurs. When it gets to that point, joint replacement is the only option,” explained Dr. Levin, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

“My biggest worry was I might never play again, but Dr. Levin guaranteed that I would,” noted Rivera. The surgeon made good on his promise. Four months after Dr. Levin performed an advanced shoulder replacement, Rivera was happily back on the handball court.

Dr. Levin takes particular joy in returning athletes of all ages and levels back to their competitive pursuits. “It’s my favorite role in orthopaedics,” he added. “I love hearing from patients who are back to the sports they love.” 

At the Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, Dr. Levin has garnered a following of high-performance athletes—like Rivera—who seek his guidance. “People who saw me before surgery watch me play now and ask, ‘who’s your doctor?’ I’m happy to recommend Dr. Levin and NorthShore,” said Rivera, who also had high praise for the specially trained ortho nurses and other members of his care team. “I give them all an A!”