Thursday, April 11, 2013

Snowboarder vs. Viewers Like You

This Blog is Supported by Viewers Like You

I started Snowboarder vs. Tree seven days after the accident with a post entitled Pictures of The Strongest Ankle Known to Man.  The purpose of the blog was to keep friends and family updated on the surgeries and recovery (and frequently gross them out with gory pictures).  Writing stupid posts while taking medication also helped pass the time recovering on my butt.

I thought I'd be providing updates to everyone for only a few months until my recovery was complete.  I'd have one final post about my triumphant return to snowboarding and then call it a day.  But as we found out, snowboarding into a tree turned into one of those life changing events.  And by far the best thing about writing for this blog for three years continues to be meeting some awesome people going through similar struggles.

So I wanted to take a moment to stop talking about me and share some of their stories with you.


Meet Richie.  I need to warn you up front.  He's a Phillies fan.  Like me, Richie had an unfortunate encounter with a tree in July 2010 in his car.  He ended up with a similar pilon fracture of his left ankle.

Richie had a couple of surgeries to fix up the fracture with plates and screws.  Unfortunately, like me, he's in a lot of pain every day.  We both use canes to get around and we're both scared of walking or standing for too long.

So Richie is considering his options.  Fusions and ankle replacements seem like poor choices to Richie because it limits his activity.  It's almost no better than walking with a cane.  He's also considered a below the knee (BTK) amputation, but that's a permanent solution.  So, like I did in 2011, Richie's going to try out ankle distraction arthroplasty.

We've been talking back and forth about our recoveries.  It's amazing how much it lifts your spirits to find someone going through similar physical and emotional pain (physical pain really wears you out).

He just found out today his surgery is on April 18th!  In addition to the distraction arthroplasty, Richie's surgeon is going to use something called a Denovo cartilage graft.  I asked Dr. Jeng about it recently.  It's a new procedure where a small amount of cartilage tissue is taken from a donor and inserted into your joint.  It's typically used to fix adhesions or holes in bone and less frequently used for distraction arthroplasty.  Dr. Jeng mentioned that because it's so new, he sees insurance companies refuse payment for Denovo.  His practice frequently ends up eating the cost for patients that use it.  (Richie I think I forgot to mention this to you -- double check before your surgery next week!)

Good luck, Richie!


Meet Tricia.  I need to warn you up front.  She's an avid skier (member of the Whitetail Ski Patrol), so I'll need to make sure this part of the post is simple and easy to follow.

Unlike me and Richie, Tricia has avoided smashing her ankles on trees.  Her problems developed from overuse injuries growing up as a young athlete.  She'd regularly run seven miles between ski team practice and dance class.  She ended up with bone spurs and had two surgeries to correct it.

Several years later, in her early 30s, she twisted her ankle playing soccer.  That's when the wheels fell off the cart.  She had three surgeries with Dr. Neufeld in Virginia (where I saw Dr. Buchanan) and five surgeries with Dr. Cooper at Georgetown.  Her most recent surgery with Dr. Cooper replaced her ankle joint with a STAR ankle prosthetic.  Unfortunately, from day one, the ankle replacement caused Tricia problems.  Her tibia and talus were no longer parallel, which led to severe back problems -- including a herniated disk.  She also had what sounds like a frustrating time with Dr. Cooper, who said she could always have her ankle fused after it was replaced.  Now that she's had it replaced, he's told her she is not a good candidate for a fusion.

Tricia mentioned to me that she is a friend of a friend of Don O'Mara.  For those of you reading the blog without ankle problems, you probably don't know who that is.  But the rest of us do.  He was the first person in the US to receive the STAR ankle replacement at Georgetown with Dr. Cooper.  That article I linked describes the replacement as a huge success.  But as Tricia found out, several years after his replacement, Don has really struggled.  And of course there are no stories about that out there.  I've reached out to Don to see if I could ask him some questions for the blog in the hopes that we can get his updated story out to ankle arthritis sufferers.

Because Tricia is going through quite a bit of pain, she's now also considering her options.  She's consulting with Dr. O'Malley in New York to look into fusion or a different ankle replacement called INBONE.  If neither of those options work, she's going to get her amputation in June with Dr. Attinger at Georgetown.  She thankfully recommended a highly regarded prosthetist and plastic surgeon since she lives in the same area -- Dr. Attinger at Georgetown.  We'll be meeting with a prosthetist Friday morning together to go over our questions.  Brooke and I are really excited to meet Tricia and our first prosthetist.  I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes!

Meeting Tricia has helped us get started on planning the amputation.  And since it appears we're both competitive people, and because she's a skier and I'm a snowboarder, it looks like some amputation recovery competitions are in the cards for 2013.

First person to walk?  The snowboarder.  First person to run?  The snowboarder.  First person to fall off the lift during our triumphant return to the slopes?

The skier.


You may have already met Meg.  She's left some comments on the blog recently that just utterly floored me.

In 2008, Meg fell five stories when the railing she was leaning against broke in an open air hallway in her college dormitory.  Five stories.  Five.  As she puts it, she broke, well, everything.  Toes.  Feet.  Crushed tibia and fibula.  Right kneecap.  Both femurs snapped.  Ribs.  Jaw.  Like I said.  EVERYTHING.  Today, Meg is able to find humor in her accident by telling people she dropped out of college.  But she is extremely fortunate to still be here with us.

Meg also lives in the Baltimore/Washington area.  Last month, she had ankle distraction arthroplasty at Mercy with the Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction.  She's not seeing Dr. Jeng, but she did meet him after her surgery.  She told him she recognized his picture from the blog!  He apparently got a big kick out of that.  Dr. Jeng told Meg he was glad she found the blog and that it has helped her prepare and cope with the ankle distraction.  I'm really glad you found the blog, too!  She's probably one of the few people on the Internet that find the external fixator videos on YouTube interesting and relevant.

Meg -- your story is truly inspiring and I hope you continue to keep us up to date on your recovery.  All of us that hang out on this blog are totally rooting for you.

There have been many many more people I've met on the blog with amazing stories.  Sharing this injury with all of you has helped me with my recovery more than you'll know.  It's been a genuine source of strength.  I'm looking forward to hearing how all of your recoveries go, and I'll be sure to keep you all updated on cutting of the leg.

I will keep updating the blog as long as I'm recovering.  There will be plenty more to talk about and share.  But one day, there will be The Last Post.  And it will be me on a board dominating the slopes with one leg.


  1. well this was certainly a surprise. and a really sweet one at that. its cool to read stories of the others you've met from this crazy adventure you're on. it reminds me of mine. and all the awesome people i've met. but to know there really are people out there that know what i'm going know how that helps. this surgery has been so huge. the biggest i've had in years, and it really jarred me. but then i got the gift of finding this blog and now knowing there's even more out there like me. its great. and something i've been searching for since it happened.

    and haha yes, i dropped out of college. man. that one STILL makes me laugh hysterically. i told my extended family that on thanksgiving and to watch their faces go from horrified to laughing with tears rolling down their face was the best thing.

    and hey, i'm from south jersey. careful what you say about those phillies man. remember, i'm the bot with the boot for the next three months. ;)

    i start pt on monday. got my footplate in the mail like two days ago. its SO weird to move it and put some weight on it. SO. WEIRD. but all in all i'm doing well.

    1. oh and its hilarious you mention the youtube stuff. about a year or so ago i found this video on youtube one night while i was brousing like kpop or some weird totally unrelated thing, it was in the suggested vids thing. it was of this guy who got his fixator removed while awake. and i just HAD to watch it. because what insane person would do that? and better yet, what doctor would allow that? i watched the whole thing and drank it up with crazy curiosity. it was awesome. and it stuck in my head for a long while. i never looked up the user who posted it to see if he had any more insane things, but i would think about that video all the time for various reasons. ...then im poking around this blog in one of my medicated hazes that i'm sure you're aware of and I FIND THE VIDEO. BECAUSE IT WAS YOURS. so you've actually been with me for longer than a few weeks. i'd think about how awesome and ballsy that was. and how if some crazy person can get his fixators removed while awake, they must not be that bad and i should just keep on truckin with what i knew was right. so theres that.

  2. I don't know why, but I am finally getting around to commenting on your blog. I found it in November while researching ankle distractions and external fixators. I had mine put on December and have had it off for about 4 weeks now. Although the reason I had mine put on is entirely different from yours, I found your story very comforting, and knew that I would make it through those 3 painful months.

    I started "blogging" to keep myself busy and to keep friends/family updated. I unfortunately fell out of it rather quickly as my life was pretty boring from sitting at home day after day.

    Thank you for all that you have written. I am interested to read about the next venture/surgery in your life.

    - Vanna

  3. Thanks, Vanna! I really appreciate the comment. I just started reading your blog. Nice walker!!! Haha.

    Your foot looks a little big/swollen. Some of that is probably from all of the edema that builds up from not moving your foot/calf muscle. But you should just pay attention to it for a few days, make sure it's not warm to the touch (back of your hand is best to test) or not too red.

    Elevate the crap out of it and really work on restoring the movement so you can pump your calf muscle and get some of that fluid out of there. I bet that's *really* uncomfortable.

    Good luck on your recovery!! And feel free to send me a note/ask a question any time!