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The Trials and Triumph of a Crazy Life

The Trials and Triumph of a Crazy Life

“Life is crazy.” That’s how Terry Piersa sums up a life story that is filled with both tragedy and triumph. It’s also a story in which University Orthopaedic Associates plays a large and significant role.

Piersa, a 61-year-old avid runner, was on her customary 8-to-12-miler in Toms River, New Jersey, on July 25, 2018 when the car of a driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel veered over two lanes and hit her from behind, sending her crashing through his windshield.

The impact of the vehicle, traveling at 55 miles per hour, caused a number of serious injuries. Both her legs were broken, her ankle was shattered, her right arm was ripped out of her shoulder socket and her left shoulder blade was equally fractured. To punctuate the damage, broken glass was lodged throughout her entire body.

The Luck of Finding a Picasso

Piersa was taken by ambulance to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where Dr. David Polonet was on duty. “Everyone told me how lucky I was. ‘Dr. Polonet is like Picasso’, they said. When he gets in there, he creates a work of art.”

Piersa would need all of Dr. Polonet’s expertise, as he placed about 18 screws and plates to rebuild her right shoulder which on an X-ray she claims, “looked like a game of pickup sticks.” She would also eventually require a large skin graft on that arm.

Many at UOA pitched in. She was next sent to Dr. Justin Fleming. He operated on her right ankle, providing a plate and a titanium cable to pull all the pieces together. Due to torn tendons on the bottom of her feet, he also had to repair some of her toes.

Next up was Dr. Patrick Buckley, who did surgery to repair her left shoulder, which included bone spurs, scar tissue, two tears in the rotator cuff and the surgical relocation of her biceps tendon.

Theresa Piersa's severely injured shoulder

The surgeries, done over a year and a half, put her back together; however, Piersa was left with numbness in her hands and fingers. An MRI and CT scan revealed that the vertebrae in her neck were herniated and out of place, likely from her head smashing through the car windshield.  

She was then sent to Dr. Robert Pannullo of UOA’s Interventional Physiatry and Pain Management department, who continues to help relieve her discomfort with kindness, compassion and cutting-edge pain management techniques.

The final tally?

A Team Effort at UOA

As tragic as the accident was—she was told it was a miracle she survived it—Piersa had already endured other challenges and was at a low point in her life. So, perhaps it was fortuitous that her faith would be restored through not one but all four UOA doctors who have treated her.

“I’m in love with every one of them,” she says. Each time she would go to a new physician, Piersa says she would brace herself, “Now I’m going to meet the grouchy doctor.” But she ended up overjoyed with them all.

“Theresa is a really nice person who went through physical, personal and financial loss,” says Dr. Fleming. “I think she was most grateful for the relationships and personal regard she was given during her care here. She’s been a vocal advocate for our practice in the community.”

Of the doctors, Piersa rhapsodizes, “They are like angels, so kind and loving. They want the best for you and are willing to help in every way.”

This was true even through the difficult complications of negotiating with her insurance company. Everyone promised to help her. “They did everything they said they were going to do,” she confirms.

Overcoming Hard Times

Of her series of challenging life events, Piersa admits, “I do have a lot of anger and rage. I’ll never be the same person. I do have limitations. But I don’t let that stop me from trying to live my fullest life.”

“I’m a very positive person,” she continues. “I know I am blessed to be alive, and grateful to be here. And I do live one day at a time and try to pass it forward.”

Despite her trials, her outlook on life is remarkable. How else to explain that she has saved the multitude of glass shards removed from all over her body from the accident. “They’re like little diamonds,” she says.

Strength is with Piersa. “I have a 28-year-old daughter, and I have to show her what a strong woman can be.” To that end, she has posted in plain sight this quote: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

“I know I was in good shape. I really think that kept me alive. And I make every attempt to overcome the physical limitations,” she says. Terry Piersa has managed to do just that, regaining important parts of her routine and her life, thanks to the surgeons at UOA.

If you have suffered any kind of orthopaedic injury, the surgeons at UOA can help. Our compassionate team of experts will develop a customized treatment plan to address your injuries and pain, and we’ll work with you to overcome your physical limitations and return to normal life. Request an appointment today.