Dancing with the Pain: Christian de la Fuente Won't Quit

Despite ruptured tendon, dancer says he'll put necessary surgery on hold.

April 30, 2008 — -- Despite having suffered a ruptured tendon in his bicep, Christian de la Fuente has decided to delay surgery and continue dancing on "Dancing With the Stars" until the end of his run on the show.

De la Fuente has a ruptured distal bicep tendon -- in layman's terms, a muscle in his upper arm has torn free from the bone, said Amy Astley, a spokeswoman for ABC, which broadcasts "Dancing With the Stars."

The injury is likely affecting his ability to turn his arm palm up to make the twisting motion necessary to open a jar, turn a doorknob -- or swing a partner on the dance floor, said Dr. Michelle Wolcott, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Colorado, said.

Nevertheless, de la Fuente said he is determined to keep going despite his injury. If he is not voted off the show, he might have to keep dancing until May 20, when the show ends.

"If people voted for us and they would like us to be on the show, I would like to continue and not give up," he told The Associated Press late Tuesday night.

The type of injury de la Fuente has can cause significant pain, especially in the first week after the tear occurs, Wolcott said. Unless he has a high pain tolerance, he will likely be prescribed painkillers, but narcotics can affect a patient's coordination.

Dr. Mark Hutchinson, an orthopedist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the dancer's decision to delay surgery and keep going is not unusual among athletes.

"There is no surgical absolute emergency in delaying for a few weeks," he said. "I watched the whole thing -- the muscle completely tore from the bone. There's nothing left to further injure."

The trouble is, Wolcott said, if it's not repaired within two weeks, scar tissue will begin to form in the part of the bone where the muscle used to be attached.

In addition, the end of the tendon will eventually begin to "wad up," making the surgery more complicated, Hutchinson said.

De la Fuentes' routines are going to have to be modified to favor his other arm, because he's lost about 50 percent of his ability to twist his left arm, Hutchinson said.

Fans of the reality dance show first sensed something was wrong when de la Fuente, the rubber-hipped South American actor, paused midgyration to rub his left arm while his samba partner took center stage.

There was dread on his smooth, tanned face when he gamely extended the same arm toward his partner, professional ballroom dancer Cheryl Burke.

His muscles quivered as he spun her in close and began to lower her into a deep dip. Then he dropped her.

It might have been funny if it wasn't so tragic.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," de la Fuente insisted, but he was clearly in pain.

Male dancers are not always given the respect that other athletes get, despite all the heavy lifting they must do, Harvard University associate clinical professor of orthopedic surgery Dr. Lyle Micheli said.

"Men are usually doing the partnering, and there's a lot of load on their arms and backs," he said. "I've seen them rupture disks. In figure skating, too."

After de la Fuente suffered what was first thought to be a severe muscle cramp in his arm and dropped Burke, judges gave the pair the lowest score of the evening -- 21 out of 30 possible points.