November 20, 2019

Mom fights back from scary fall to attend son’s wedding

Knee | Patient Stories | Trauma | Urgent Care

Brenda Rohl was making final preparations for her son’s wedding, which was right around the corner, when she experienced a severe fall. She was carrying a plastic Adirondack chair down her basement steps, which blocked her view of the last few stairs, causing her to fall.  

Brenda heard a crack in her leg and immediately felt a rush of pain. She tried, and failed, to stand up. Her youngest son was in his room with his headphones on and his door closed, preventing him from hearing Brenda’s cries for help. Brenda maneuvered her way up the stairs, enabling her son to hear her, and together they called her husband. 

They went to OrthoIndy South, hoping for a quick solution. “I told them about the wedding and that I wanted to get in and out,” said Brenda. “The staff was extremely kind and extremely helpful.” 

The fall was worse than Brenda thought; the clinic recommended she visit OrthoIndy trauma surgeon, Dr. David Kaehr. However, Dr. Kaehr was farther away than Brenda would have liked, and there was still wedding planning to handle. 

Fortunately, soon after leaving the clinic, Brenda got a call. Dr. Kaehr had reviewed Brenda’s X-rays from the clinic and wanted to see her right away. Brenda had two major fractures in her tibia plateau and her knee was partially dislocated. On top of that, one of the fractures was close to an artery. 

“It was a pretty significant injury,” said Dr. Kaehr. “The concern with this injury is the possibility of the knee totally dislocating and the bone putting pressure on the artery, which would cut off blood flow to the lower leg.” 

The worst part of it all for Brenda was when Dr. Kaehr said she might not be able to go to the wedding due to the severity of the injury. Knowing how important the wedding was to Brenda, Dr. Kaehr told her he could get her to the wedding, but it would mean a second surgery. 

Bone fracture repair surgery

Dr. Kaehr completed the first surgery before the wedding. “I put pins through the skin, drilled them into the bone, put titanium clamps on the pins and carbon fiber bars in the clamps to stabilize the leg,” said Dr. Kaehr. After the wedding, Dr. Kaehr would repair Brenda’s leg. 

“It meant everything to me that Dr. Kaehr went out of his way to ensure I could make it to my son’s wedding,” said Brenda. “During our mother and son dance, I was in a wheelchair, but I was there,” said Brenda. “Dr. Kaehr made that happen, and I feel truly indebted to him.” 

After the wedding, Brenda had her second surgery. There was concern about nerve damage, which would cause foot drop, which is a gait abnormality in which the dropping of the forefoot happens due to weakness, irritation or damage. 

“I had to make an incision in the back of her leg to fix one of the fractures,” said Dr. Kaehr. “I isolated the nerve that could cause foot drop to get it out of the way. The fracture was really fragmented, so we elevated the joint surface to put in a bone graft and a plate in the back of the tibia.” 

Brenda was immediately happy with the results. “Surgery was longer than they thought but was very successful,” said Brenda. “I could move my toes and foot in the recovery room, which made me so excited.”

What to expect when a broken bone is healing

For three months, Brenda couldn’t put any weight on her legs and had to have someone with her at all times. “I’m extremely independent,” said Brenda. “I’m always up and taking care of other people. So, when I found out how much help I would need for three months, it was very difficult emotionally.” 

Brenda’s healing time was typical for her injuries and operation. “When you operate on a fracture, you determine healing by X-rays,” said Dr. Kaehr. “It takes about three months to heal these fractures. Pain should diminish as time goes on, which is a sign of healing.” 

Brenda was able to make it through the healing process with the help of her friends and family. “I had a friend who wouldn’t let me be in a rehab facility for three months,” said Brenda. “She rounded up ten friends to come help me and sit with me. And they did. Someone sat with me the entire time when my husband and sons couldn’t.  It’s amazing that I have friends that would do that.” 

Brenda was eventually able to put weight back on her leg and get back to normal. “As a result of doing everything Dr. Kaehr said, I was able to put weight back on my leg and walk with a walker, cane and then did physical therapy at OrthoIndy,” said Brenda.  

Life after bone fracture repair surgery

Brenda was able to recover and return to her daily activities, but it took an adjustment period. “When I recovered, I couldn’t stand very long,” said Brenda. “Now, I’m back at it. I can walk up and down the beach during vacations and I’m back on my bike now. I can even walk down my steps without fear.” 

Brenda credits Dr. Kaehr, his physician assistant, Meghan Herrington, and her physical therapist, Niko Manetti, for her recovery. “There’s nothing I was doing before that I can’t do now because of those three folks,” said Brenda. “Dr. Kaehr and Meghan are a fabulous team. They were very caring and reassuring, which helped me a lot.” 

Brenda is hoping to be able to walk farther distances as she continues her recovery process. “I’ve been able to go to the gym and do the weights I typically do,” said Brenda. “However, I do 5k walks for different organizations and I’m not able to do that right now. I want to be able to have the stamina to walk farther again.” 

The only symptom that remains for Brenda is the feeling that her leg has a tight brace on it from her knee to the middle of her calf. “Dr. Kaehr assured me that’s not a problem,” said Brenda. “He says that for 18 months, the leg will go through stages of swelling and recovery. I don’t notice it unless I think about it, and it doesn’t stop me from doing anything.” 

Brenda is very happy with her results. “I wondered if I would ever walk again,” said Brenda. “I’m very excited that I am where I am.” 

Learn more about trauma care at OrthoIndy

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