This is a commentary that I have wanted to write for a while. It’s a thank you piece to Dr. SooHoo at UCLA Medical Center. I was a cripple for most of my life from a motocross racing injury when I was young. My left ankle was a “dangler” with a SERIOUS break. It required screws to put it together that were later removed. I got along pretty well for many years, but did eventually have another surgery to “clean up” the joint.
Dr. Nelson SooHoo, MD
Ultimately, the ankle became arthritic with bone on bone pain. I was told that I would be a candidate for ankle fusion surgery. That scared me to death. I chose to suffer in pain for over 10 years because of my fear of this surgery.
My whole life revolved around what I couldn’t do. Pain medication really didn’t help. I remember one 4th of July when friends were going to a car show and staying for fireworks. This would be a fun day, but I realized I could probably manage through one event…not both. Even though the fireworks included sitting, it would still be too big of a day for me.
Time was marching on and I realized that this very difficult surgery would be even harder as I got older. You need to be non-weight bearing for two months while the bones fuse after being screwed together. (NO walking) In reality it’s a 6-month recovery time. I felt the time clock ticking.
I will be forever grateful to Dr. Robert Young M.D., the orthopedic doctor at my HMO health group. He studied under Dr. Nelson SooHoo, the ankle specialist at UCLA and referred me to him for this procedure.
Looking back at the 5-year mark after the fusion, I am filled with gratitude for the care I received and my amazing outcome. I have been a part of an ankle fusion support group and while most of these fusions go well, some don’t.
As I walked through the healing, coming off being non-weight bearing from the cast for two months moving into a boot, I thought I would never walk again. A knee scooter was my friend, enabling me to get around.
This was a challenging season, but somehow I got through it. The recovery was long and painful, not just for me…but also for my family who had to put up with me. I’m not the greatest patient.
In my final post op visit, it seemed even Dr. SooHoo, was impressed by my progress and the mobility I had. While the ankle is completely fused, with no movement, I can walk without a limp, and pretty much without pain. He took a video of me walking to show other patients my results. I think my mobility is based on where the ankle is actually fused and the skill of my surgeon.
A milestone event for me was the inaugural Wings for Life World Run in 2013. This amazing worldwide run supports spinal cord injury research. I thought it was a little crazy when my wife asked me to go to this event that started at 3:00 AM in Southern California that first year. Everyone runs around the world at that same time. If we were in Florida, we would have started at 6:00 AM.
Being somewhat disabled for so long, I was blown away by what I saw happening that morning. At this point in my life, I had started to walk a bit. With all the excitement going on, I decided to sign up and do it.
Wings for Life was my first “formal” event and it holds a special place in my heart.
While running is typically not recommended for fusion patients, I found myself hanging with an amazing group of people that are part of Team Runners Lane. I started running, but it’s not the typical type of running, that would involve pounding on the ankle. It’s really more of a walk, with the motion of running…and I’m very slow.
When I started I could barely go a mile. With the encouragement of the Runners Lane family, I began to enjoy running and the feeling of freedom that comes with it.
Following the training schedule put together by Flo Mina at Runners Lane I completed a half marathon. I’m now training for another one. 13.1 miles is a long way for an old guy with a fused ankle! If it’s of interest, my half marathon story is here.
I bought a bike and started to do some riding. Cycling is easier on your body than running. My goal at this point is just to stay healthy. Injuries seem to be pretty common with athletes…and especially runners. I was sidelined with a torn calf for two months. That affected me mentally and physically.
There is more I could be doing on my wellness journey, but I don’t beat myself up. I’m happy with how far I have come. My goal, and the goal of SuccessFit4Life!™ is to encourage people on their journey…wherever they want to go.