Christina Thunberg (Orthopedic Surgery)

It seems like every time folks gather around to swap life stories, there’s always one person whose experiences trump them all.

Christina Thunberg is such a person.

“It was my 17th birthday,” she recalls. “We were at my uncle’s place, and I’d brought a friend with me.” Riding was definitely on the menu – but there were only two horses and no one felt like doubling up. “My uncle got a horse. My friend got the other horse.” Which left Christina. She got the donkey, with assurances it was “tame and fine” and frequently ridden by “neighbor kids.”

Christina mounted the donkey bareback, with nothing to control it but a simple rope around its neck. Her uncle provided a slap to the beast’s hindquarters and off they went. Headed downhill at a fast clip, it wasn’t long before things got out of control. Next thing Christina knew, “I flew off the donkey and landed on my shoulder.”

Happy birthday, indeed.

That painful escapade landed her in the ER, followed by copious amounts of physical therapy. And yet, if that was her only war wound, Christina wouldn’t last long in a story-swapping contest.

But wait!

Months later, Christina was out with friends when they had a rollover accident after the senior prom. No one was seriously injured, but once again her shoulder “was really messed up.” More physical therapy followed.

The same year, Christina was racing up a steep slope on the back of a large utility quad – until she wasn’t. She and her friend fell off, and the heavy quad, complete with roll bars, ran over Christina’s back as it tumbled, rider-free, down the hill with them.

“I was a bit of a crazy child,” she admits, and the chain of accidents and repeated trauma to her shoulder was taking its toll. “I was in pain for the next ten years.”

For Christina, that decade of shoulder pain opened with earning a degree in criminal justice, followed by a short stint in maximum security (as an employee, of course). She’d hoped to work as a juvenile probation officer. “I lasted maybe six months, and I’m like ‘this is not for me.'”

Ready for a fresh start, Christina, by now a mother of two, made the move from Chehalis to Ellensburg. She found work at KVH, and eventually joined the team at KVH Orthopedics, where she helped patients navigate the non-medical side of the surgical process, such as scheduling and insurance issues.

It had been ten years since Christina’s initial shoulder trauma, and time was taking its toll. “I was in so much pain. I was taking eight ibuprofen a day,” she admits. “I got ulcers from that. I tried massage, physical therapy, you name it. Finally, I decided to see Dr. Mirich, since I was already working with him and knew how great he was with his patients.”

She quickly knew she’d made the right decision. “Dr. Mirich spent a lot of time with me to figure out what really was wrong,” says Christina. “I had a nerve conduction study, MRIs and x-rays. He even brought me into his office and explained everything, had me look at the MRIs and – he went above and beyond. It’s probably why he takes a lot of time with his patients. I just felt special, I guess.”

The initial diagnosis was thoracic outlet syndrome, a compression and tangling of nerves below the neck. “I also had tendonitis, osteoarthritis and a bunch of other stuff,” says Christina, who, under Mirich’s care, underwent a shoulder scope, carpal tunnel surgery, and distal clavicle excision (removing part of the clavicle bone to relieve joint pain). Genetics likely played some small part in Christina’s condition – her aunt and grandmother had also undergone carpal tunnel and shoulder surgeries.

Christina’s recovery lasted three weeks, and for the first time since her shoulder troubles began, physical therapy wasn’t part of the process. “I didn’t feel like I needed it,” she says, finding new enjoyment at work and at home now that she was pain-free.

Today, Christina works at KVH Hospital on the preoperative team, booking outpatient surgeries, including orthopedic procedures like the ones she herself experienced. And while her former colleagues at KVH Orthopedics are like family to her, Christina loves her new role and is considering a future as a surgical technologist.

Also in her future – a new last name. “Walters,” she grins. Recently engaged, Christina’s family of three is blending with her fiancé’s family of four, and their children couldn’t be happier. “I love all of them. And my kids look up to their new (older) siblings. It’s so cute.” They plan to make things official in 2021.

In the meantime, Christina fills her days with the people and activities she was unable to enjoy for so long. “I was pretty grouchy there for a while,” she admits. “All that popping and clicking every time I moved my shoulder, really got to me.” When her youngest, Brody, slipped on the steps and fractured his hip, Christina didn’t hesitate to take him to KVH Orthopedics, where he was seen by physician assistant Dena Mahre. “She was amazing,” confirms Christina.

These days, having long outgrown her ‘reckless teenage phase,’ Christina has fewer of those fantastic accident stories to share – and that’s just fine with her. She encourages anyone with debilitating pain to stop waiting, and get checked out for possible treatment. “As soon as I had the surgery, I felt so much better,” she confesses, with a smile. “I still do.”