Saturday, June 17, 2006

Put Back Together Again

Today is an anniversary for me of a miracle. On May 13, 2001, I broke both my tibial plateaux. (see archives for May - Grateful). The year after that accident was a very difficult one as I struggled to realize what this meant to the rest of my life. My left tibial plateau was only cracked and healed perfectly (although there is still a screw in there somewhere that I can feel once in a while...). My right tibial plateau was crushed, my cartlidge (sp?) demolished and jagged pieces of my tibial plateau pushed down into my tibia. (This is a picture of a tibial plateau. Your tibia is your shin bone. The tibial plateau is the flat part at your knee where it meets up with your femur from your thigh. The small bone is the fibula.) My surgeon didn't know what to do. He sent me to a knee specialist in Calgary at the Foothills Hospital. That was very discouraging. He told me that there was nothing to be done to fix my knee. He asked me if I could work and look after my family and of course, I could (you can do those things from a wheel chair!). And that was that.

In the meantime, my tibial plateau was depressed by .8 cm. on the one side. Every step was painful and my leg below the knee veered out by 23 degrees. I couldn't walk long distances; I couldn't run; even dancing was painful. With all of my x-rays and cat scans in hand, right after Calgary, I went tearfully to my physio therapist, Kees Husken. This was the first time he had seen all my x-rays (because Surgeons don't cooperate very well with phyios). He looked at them all and explained to me why all their ideas wouldn't work. Then he told me about a rare procedure. A tibial plateau transplant.... I took all the information to my surgeon. Of course, he knew about it... (I still don't know why he didn't recommend it). He referred me for the procedure. The procedure is only done in Toronto by the Dr Gross out of Mt Sianai Hospital. He pioneered the procedure and every Dr who does it anywhere in the world, learned from him.

This procedure involves someone who has died and donated their body for organ transplants. Then it has to match for sex and height and build. Donors have to be clean living and under the age of 30. Then, within a week of death, a piece of their tibial plateau is cut out and my damaged piece of plateau is cut out. Hers is put in. Her cartlidge is sewn over top. Normally people have to wait years for a match. I got a call within months of being referred (before they even had all my paper work). This little piece of bone acts as a template for my own bone to grow into. I would have to be non-weightbearing for 1 year while my bone did this amazing thing...

On June 17, 2002 - only a year and a month after my original injury, Dr Gross transplanted someone's tibial plateau into my knee. He is a very kind man and I will always be grateful to him and his social worker who took the time to talk to me and get to know me. My procedure was actually televised to a confrence on cartlidge transplantation happening in Toronto... I had flown alone to Toronto. Friends of Dean's who had never met me came to visit me. I was in the hospital for 9 days until the agonizing flight home and the year of my recovery began (but that is another story for another post sometime). I am so grateful to be a Canadian. Our medical system may have its problems but it worked for me when it really mattered. I can walk again because of my physio-therapist and Dr. Gross. I will never forget them for believing in my life and understanding the importance of mobility to even a 35 year old woman. Everytime I dance, as I slowly re-learn how to jog and run, as I skip with my dance class, as go for long hikes, I remember the miracle. Thank you!

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