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Back to Making Beautiful Music Thanks to Extraordinary Care at St. Luke’s
July 02, 2018


Few people in the audience were aware of the miracle taking place when Karen Ambrose’s bow danced across her violin strings to help create the strains of Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 for the Lehigh University Philharmonic Orchestra at Zoellner Hall last December.

Just four months earlier, Karen, an Upper Saucon Township mother of three, found herself in such debilitating pain that she couldn’t place her chin on the chin rest.

After visiting a chiropractor failed to provide relief, a friend told her about Giovanni Stracco, DPT, Director of the Spine Program for Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s.

“I knew right away I was in the perfect place,” Karen said of the St. Luke’s Spine Program. “Giovanni diagnosed the problem right away, and every time I went back, I was getting better.”

Karen has been playing the violin for more than 40 years. She served as the Concert Master while a student at Lehigh University, and now volunteers as a violinist with the Philharmonic. Not being able to play because of injury was devastating.

“I injured my lower back and my neck while sailing,” Ambrose said, “and then when I was working out, I partially dislocated my first rib, which threw my whole chest, neck and shoulders into muscle spasms. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t drive or move my head.”

Karen’s visits with Stracco weren’t the first time she needed physical therapy. She maintained a physically active lifestyle with tennis, skiing, weight training and cardio exercise. She suffered from typical shoulder and elbow issues, and had fractured her right wrist – her bow-holding hand – 14 years earlier.

But the neck and back injuries in August caused extreme pain.

“She was completely debilitated when she came in,” said Stracco, who has advanced training in orthopedic manual therapies for the spine.

Through his initial examination, Stracco determined that Karen’s partially dislocated first rib, not the neck injury, was the major reason for the painful spasms that led to the dysfunction of her neck.

Stracco used orthopedic manual therapies such as the Maitland ® concept and Mulligan for a “hands on” approach. He often uses a combination of methodologies and modalities in order to get the best results for his patients.

“When someone is in tremendous pain like Karen, they’re not only looking to relieve that pain, but to trust someone who literally has their head in their hands, their spine in their hands,” Stracco said.

Stracco worked with Karen on her neck, her spine and normalization of posturing by mobilizing the shoulder and elbow to get her back to violin and playing tennis. He also provided her with core and scapula-stabilizing exercises.

“We have patients come in for therapy and they’re fearful,” he said. “They don’t want someone touching their neck if it’s extraordinarily painful. It’s about developing a trust. Karen was able to get to where she was because we developed that level of trust.”

And the success Karen received through therapy with Stracco has her inspired her to do more.

“I had broken my wrist 14 years ago and I never got the flexibility back that I needed because it had plates and screws in it,” Karen said. “Giovanni worked with me on that and I haven’t had this much flexibility since before the accident. I think that’s a really great bonus, especially for the violin.”

Karen Ambrose is back to making beautiful music again thanks to extraordinary care from Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s.

Media Contact:

Brenda Hageter, Media Relations, (484)-526-3051, Brenda.hageter@sluhn.org

About St. Luke’s

Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of 14,000 employees providing services at 10 hospitals and over 315 outpatient sites.  With annual net revenue of $1.9 billion, the network’s service area includes 10 counties: Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Schuylkill, Bucks, Montgomery, Berks and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. Dedicated to advancing medical education, St. Luke’s is a major teaching hospital – the only one in the Greater Lehigh Valley.  In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke’s created the region’s first and only regional medical school campus.  It also operates the nation’s longest continuously operating School of Nursing, established in 1884, and 27 fully accredited graduate medical educational programs with 211 residents.  St. Luke’s is the only health care network in central-eastern Pennsylvania to earn Medicare’s five-star rating (the highest) for quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction.  Repeatedly, including 2018, St. Luke’s has earned the 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital and 50 Top Cardiovascular Program designations from IBM Watson Health (formerly Truven Health Analytics).  St. Luke’s, utilizing the EPIC electronic medical record (EMR) system, is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of St. Luke’s information technology applications such as telehealth, online scheduling and online pricing information.  St. Luke’s is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers.