Timely Hand Surgery Saves One South Shore Legend’s Finger

Lifelong Weymouth resident Richard Gifford never imagined the path a painful sore on his index finger would lead him on.

It was early June when the 66-year-old teacher, Hall of Fame high school basketball coach, and avid golfer began experiencing swelling and redness in his finger that he initially chalked up as a possible insect bite.

“When it started to impact my ability to write and swing a golf club, I knew I had to get it checked out,” he explained.

Gifford recalls the whirlwind of doctors’ appointments that would follow. Among those were visits to his primary care physician, an urgent care center, and ultimately the expert care from John Kadzielski, MD, Chief of Hand and Upper Extremity Services at South Shore Health.

Richard Gifford
Richard Gifford, back to the swing of life

Dr. Kadzielski provides expertise that is usually only found in the traditional inpatient surgical setting at the Center for Orthopedics, Spine, and Sports Medicine in Hingham. The Center offers convenient access to an extensive team of surgical, pain management, orthopedic, diagnostic imaging, and rehabilitation experts who specialize in treating a broad range of musculoskeletal conditions in an outpatient setting.

South Shore residents now have access to world-class, comprehensive, wide-awake hand surgery—enabling the surgeon to assess the results in real time. This innovative technique not only improves outcomes, but also helps patients recover and return to normal activities more quickly. Receiving hand and upper extremity care at the Center is like going to an academic medical center in the city—but without the typical months-long wait to see a specialist or long commute into Boston.

After seeing six providers and several invasive procedures, Richard was diagnosed with a deep bone infection. He called Dr. Kadzielski’s office and got an appointment that same day.

“Richard presented with an open (draining) wound from his finger joint from what clinically appeared to be tophaceous gout,” Dr. Kadzielski recalls. When these wounds are open for periods of time, especially when invasive procedures have occurred, bacteria can sometimes enter the area. This can lead to deep infection—so deep the entire finger may be threatened. 

Gifford faced that frightening possibility head-on during the consultation with Dr. Kadzielski. “He said, ‘What we are trying to do is save your finger,’ and when he said that, I knew we were dealing with amputation,” Gifford said.

He recognized that his active lifestyle as a mentor, writer, and golfer were at risk should he lose part of his hand.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life at the thought of losing my finger,” Gifford stated. “At 66 years old, I had never even spent one night in a hospital.”

While understandably concerned about his prognosis, Gifford said he quickly placed his trust in Dr. Kadzielski and the extraordinary medical team at the Center.

Within 24 hours of Richard’s appointment, he had a consultation, imaging, laboratory studies, antibiotics, and outpatient surgery, all under the roof of the Center for Orthopedics, Spine, and Sports Medicine. Within a couple days, Richard’s pain was gone, his underlying condition was resolved, and his body was healing. He would not lose his finger. 

Gifford praised the effectiveness of the procedure and commended Dr. Kadzielski and team at the Center for Orthopedics, Spine, and Sports Medicine for their role in restoring his finger. “From the pre-op nurses to the doctor and assistant, the team was fantastic,” Gifford raved. “I honestly feel indebted for life to this amazing team.”

Dr. Kadzielski and the hand and upper extremity team are dedicated to a comprehensive, integrated hand and upper extremity surgery program.

“I’ve always been interested in the tight interrelationship between someone’s overall well-being and their interaction with society through the use of their hands,” Kadzielski said.

“Not only can a hand injury be functionally limiting to a person, but also socially handicapping,” he continued. “Being able to bring function and comfort back to an active patient like Richard is incredibly satisfying.”

Learn more about South Shore Health’s world-leading hand and upper extremity program.