Coloring Books and CMC Arthritis: Helping a Local Artist’s Hand

by Chris Centeno, MD /

avoid thumb surgery

This past December I got a cryptic message in the mail which lead to me working on a local artist’s hand. This weekend he dropped off a picture he had created of our home in exchange for hand CMC PRP therapy. The story is a great example of synchronicity. Let me explain.

A Message from Who?

Given what I do I get emails and messages from random people all the time. This one came in December and was unique. It was a handwritten card from a local artist named John Aaron with a hand-drawn image of our home on the front. In the card, he wrote that he had been suffering from CMC arthritis of his left hand for the past year and surgeons had told him the only option was a tendon interposition surgery. He included images of his x-rays. He didn’t like the sound of taking a tendon from his wrist, removing a bone there, and stuffing the tendon in that space. The fact that he was an artist who worked in multiple media all of his life including clay made this decision all the more difficult. Meaning, at times, his left hand was as critical as his right for his work.

How he found our house was also interesting. After being a potter most of his life, his left-hand problems had stopped his ability to work with clay. However, being a driven creative, he took up drawing again as an outlet (something he could do with his right hand only) and had the idea to draw historic homes. He was literally wandering the streets of our neighborhood looking for more homes to draw when he chanced upon ours and thought it looked “Norman Rockwellesque”, so he put down his easel and began to create. Little did he know that drawing our house would later solve his problem with his bum hand.

The connection between our house and John’s non-functional hand began when he sat down to show a friend his drawings. The friend was a patient and knew where I lived, so when he got to the drawing of our house, he asked John if he knew who lived there. John said that he didn’t know any of the inhabitants of the homes he drew, he just drew them. His friend told him that the doctor that lived there may be able to help him avoid surgery, as that doctor had helped a woman he knew with a similar problem. Hence my hand drawn card that arrived around Christmas.

After a few months of my wife reminding that I needed to contact this artist, I finally reached out and we set up an exam. He had moderate to severe CMC arthritis (the joint at the base of the thumb), so I agreed to treat him. In exchange, he would do a larger picture of our historic house. Basically a trade of his skill for mine.

Our Home’s Medical History

Our historic home in Boulder, Colorado has some fascinating medical and science history. It was built in 1890 and its second inhabitant was a great, great grandson of Benjamin Franklin, William Duane, Ph.D. After being head of the new phjysics department for a few years, Dr. Duane left Boulder and the University of Colorado in 1903 to become a research fellow in the Paris lab of Marie and Pierre Curie. He later became one of the fathers of modern nuclear medicine at Harvard and Mass. General, opening a radium clinic there.

The next inhabitant of our home after Duane was William Page Harlow, M.D. who moved to Boulder in 1903 where he became Professor of Medical Diagnosis and Dean of the University of Colorado Medical School. He was instrumental in building the then brand new CU medical school in Denver and was rumored to have a hematology lab in the basement.

Treating John’s Thumb

The treatment I used for John’s thumb was one that we developed at Regenexx a number of years back. Basically, while stem cells are sometimes needed, high-dose platelet-rich plasma and platelet lysate work well. In that procedure, I used high-resolution ultrasound and a tiny needle to inject platelet lysate around his median nerve in the wrist and then used the PRP to inject the lax ligaments around the CMC joint and into the joint itself. For info on this treatment, see my video below that features Dr. Pitts at our Colorado HQ performing this procedure:

The Trade and John’s Result

After treating his thumb, I didn’t hear from John for a few weeks, but he did get in touch with my wife recently and asked to drop by the finished hand painted picture of our house. That image is above. He also has done a whole coloring book of historic Boulder homes.

More importantly, yesterday he showed me that for the first time in a year, he can use his hand. He lifted up a chair to demonstrate, showing me that just a month ago he couldn’t do that without severe knife-like pain. He made a fist, which was impossible before the treatment. Basically, he has his hand back, without the huge surgery!

The upshot? I thought John’s journey was fascinating. He’s doing very well with his coloring book that features many historic homes and his hand now works again. All because one day he walked by our house and liked the vibe and began to draw. Amazing how life works sometimes, huh?

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6 thoughts on “Coloring Books and CMC Arthritis: Helping a Local Artist’s Hand

  1. cindy Cartwright

    Beautiful story. You have also helped me to have a pain free thumb joint.

  2. Katie Matykowski

    Wonderful story! My Sister Angela from Germantown Wisconsin is a graphic artist who’s atlas instability has caused her to lose her ability to be actively creative in her graphic arts profession. She is currently undergoing stem cell treatments lead by Dr Centeno. We are all hoping for a favorable result. More time is needed. Dr Centeno and his staff are very attentive and caring. We shall see them again in August. Looking forward to our visit. Katie

  3. Jeff Spiroff

    How cool is that ! There is a God.
    Chef Jeff of Aspen

  4. George Peters

    I’m a friend of John’s and have been helping him during the last year. The problem hand he showed me when he was visiting was serious and needed attention. I’m an artist as well and know how important hands are. It was a miracle that he connected to you and that you were able to help him. I applaud your decision to help John to not only get his hand back into working condition but also his spirit has risen ten-fold now.

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi George Peters,
      Thanks so much for sharing that!

  5. Bridgette

    Wow! What a great story!!

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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