A new shoulder helped this athlete continue his decades-long winning streak

[4 min read]

In this article: 

  • Swedish Orthopedics helps a life-long track and field athlete keep doing what he loves. 
  • A creative surgical approach extends a shoulder joint's life. 
  • Unparalleled aftercare from the orthopedics team was central to recovery. 

George Mathews (shown in photo above) likes to throw his weights around. The 80-year-old Edmonds resident is a world championship hammer thrower, with six world championships and 60 national championships under his belt.

For the hammer throw, an athlete uses two hands and their arms and shoulders to throw a hammer — a heavy weight on a wire — as far as possible. The sport can be traced back to the Celts in ancient Ireland and requires high levels of coordination, speed, and strength — particularly in the arms and shoulders.

A little over three years ago, arthritis in his right shoulder left Mathews in severe pain and facing the difficult decision to have shoulder surgery to continue his throwing career.

“I had everything wrong with my shoulder that anyone could possibly have,” says Mathews, a Long Island, N.Y., native who has called Washington State home for 45 years.

“I had one of the most complicated procedures there could have been. Dr. Schwartz also had to contend with torn biceps from hammer throwing [as well as bone-on-bone arthritis and bone spurs]. I had so much going on. The preparation was fantastic. They gave me all the information that I could have possibly needed. It was hard to think it was going to be a positive experience, but I really appreciate what they did.”

After extensive research and consultations with fellow athletes and coaches, Mathews turned to Swedish Orthopedics, and surgeon Daniel Schwartz, M.D., who specializes in disorders of the elbow and shoulder. Because Mathews planned to continue competing in the hammer throw as well as coaching young athletes at the high school level and privately, he decided with Dr. Schwartz to have a reverse shoulder replacement, which swaps out the ball-and-socket of the shoulder, making the arm bone the socket and the shoulder blade the ball. The procedure and larger replacement joint are usually reserved for younger patients, but Mathews’ athleticism made him an exception.

“Dr. Schwartz told me that if he gave somebody my age the typical hardware, I’d be back in two years,” says Mathews. “I have a replacement that is twice as strong as they would normally give to someone my age.” 

Mathews says that until that surgery he had never received the kind of care provided by the team at the Swedish Orthopedics Institute.

“I had one of the most complicated procedures there could have been. Dr. Schwartz also had to contend with torn biceps from hammer throwing [as well as bone-on-bone arthritis and bone spurs]. I had so much going on. The preparation was fantastic. They gave me all the information that I could have possibly needed,” says Mathews. “It was hard to think it was going to be a positive experience, but I really appreciate what they did.”

Mathews reserves special praise for the follow-up care from Dr. Schwartz’s team; he received a call every day from a pain team doctor the first week to check in on his pain levels and his overall condition. He also appreciates the small incision and “great” stitches from the surgery.  

At present, Mathews is back to event preparation and competition. He recently competed in a Masters Level competition in Las Vegas and continues to coach athletes specializing in hammer throw and discus. (Masters level is the official competition category for athletes ages 35 and older.) He’s also preparing to have his left shoulder replaced, and he’s fully confident in Dr. Schwartz and his team for this surgery.

“I can’t think of enough superlatives for how good [Dr. Schwartz and his team are],” says Mathews. “In six weeks, I was back to throwing the hammer. He really gave me confidence because he told me it wasn’t his job to tell me that I might not be able to do this. His attitude was that he is the guy who was going to fix me so I could get back to the things I love.” 

Learn more and find a provider

Do you or a loved one need to consult about a spine or orthopedic surgery or a joint replacement? Experts at the Swedish Orthopedic Institute (SOI) can help. Providence Swedish Orthopedics, located on the sixth floor of SOI, is now accepting new patients and referrals. To learn more the clinic, download this flyer

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. For urgent, walk-in or after-hours care, visit one of Swedish Urgent Care facilities. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Providence Swedish Orthopedics opens at First Hill

Tips from a Swedish sports doc to help you train like a pro athlete

Gym rat or weekend warrior? Here’s some advice for sports injury prevention.

That twinge is telling you something. Don’t ignore back pain.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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