Noted Musician Gets Second Chance
Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse plays violin after “reverse shoulder replacement”
BY HERBERT ATIENZA, media relations specialist, Loma Linda University Medical Center
T AN AGE when most people would have slowed down, Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse would hear nothing of it. At age 87, the world-renowned founder and artistic director of the New England Youth Ensemble keeps a full schedule, including recent engagements at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York.
But just three years ago Rittenhouse, an award-winning conductor, pianist, and violinist, almost saw curtains for her illustrious music career.
“I thought this was going to be the end,” said Rittenhouse about a fall that occurred five years ago that found her flying off to southern California from her Boston-area home to seek treatment.
She credits the grace and mercy of God and the treatment she received at the famed Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) for allowing her to be restored physically.
It all started mundanely enough. Rittenhouse was roused from her sleep by a phone call in the middle of the night in 2005. Thinking it was an important call related to an upcoming trip to South Africa, she ran out into the dark hall and slammed herself against a wall.
FIT AS A FIDDLE: Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, 87, still plays violin, thanks to a "reverse shoulder replacement" surgery she first read about in the January 2007 issue of Adventist World, NAD Edition. The renowned musician and conductor had the procedure at church-owned Loma Linda University Medical Center.
“I felt this pain in the shoulder, but I thought it was just a sprain,” she recalled. She thought the pain would eventually subside, but instead it “continued getting worse and worse” as the hours turned into days.
“I realized I couldn’t play the instruments because the pain was severe . . . I couldn’t play the piano, I could only play three notes . . . and then the violin, oh, my word, that hurt intensely.”
She went to her local doctor, then to a physical therapist who, after several sessions, told her that there probably were not a lot of options left.
“I just didn’t know what to do,” Rittenhouse said.
Born in Canada and raised in South Africa, Rittenhouse was a prodigy whose debut performance of her own compositions was aired over a South African national radio broadcast at age 10. She received degrees from University of Washington, Boston University, and the Peabody Conservatory, and spent years teaching music in such institutions as Walla Walla University and Atlantic Union College.
In 1969 she started the New England Youth Ensemble, which began with a group of five students. The group, now numbering 45 members, has since been traveling twice a year and winning acclaim throughout the world.
Rittenhouse said a “miracle” occurred as she dealt with the possibility of a career at its end. A subscriber to Adventist Review and its global companion, Adventist World, she read an article about two patients in southern California who underwent a new form of surgery at LLUMC to help them with conditions very similar to hers. (The article ran as part of an “advertorial” section on pages 25 and 26 of the January 2007 Adventist World, NAD Edition.)
The noted musician wasted no time contacting the doctors, arranging
to have the surgery herself.
Dr. Wesley Phipatanakul, an orthopedic surgeon at LLUMC, performed a “reverse shoulder replacement” on Rittenhouse three years ago.
He said shoulder replacement surgery is not as well known as hip and knee replacement surgeries, as the number of orthopedic surgeons specializing in shoulder replacements are much fewer compared to lower-joint-extremity-replacement specialists. While current conventional shoulder replacement was pioneered in the 1960s, the reverse shoulder procedure has only been performed in the United States since 2004, he said.
Phipatanakul said he is pleased with Rittenhouse’s recovery.
“Her clinical outcome has been wonderful,” he said. “Now she’s traveling all over the world performing music. We continue to be amazed at how successful this operation has been for our patients. The Lord has blessed us at Loma Linda University Medical Center as we are approaching our 200th reverse shoulder replacement.”
Rittenhouse said the experience affirmed her faith in prayer and in God’s mercy.
“The night that I read [in Adventist World] about these two ladies, I felt this had to be the answer that God had for me. It offered me hope. All of this was God’s work,” she said.