Thursday, August 28, 2008

"That which does not kill me makes me stronger" - Nietzche

When I was a kid my three brothers and I loved to leg wrestle. Remember that? It's where you lie down next to each other but in opposite directions so my head is next to my opponent's head. Each would then bring the inside leg up to vertical on the count of "one - two - three," and on "three," you lock legs and try to pull the other off his back and over the top. I was the long-standing Shurtleff leg wrestling champ.

I worked hard on developing strong leg muscles for football (as an offensive tackle I can't count how many hours, from little league to my walk-on at BYU, that I pushed heavy sleds around a practice field) and for basketball relying on my left leg to go up strong on a lay-up or to out jump a taller opponent on the opening tip-off (yep that's me in white Brighton Bengal uniform - I won that tip!) Over the years, they've gotten a little bigger. My wife once joked that just one of my legs could feed an entire tribe of starving cannibals for a week.

Needless to say, I don't win leg wrestling contests anymore and I haven't done a lay-up in well over a year.

After suffering through six surgeries to repair my badly broken left leg a year ago, I was told yesterday that I'm down to two options: amputation (GASP!) or a unique and unwieldy new repair called the "Ilizarov Technique." So of course, I've chosen the latter which will be done tomorrow. Since so many people have called, emailed and written with their kind well wishes and contributions to the Law Enforcement Memorial, I thought I would give a brief medical lesson on what has happened and what the docs will do tomorrow:

In September of last year I sustained a serious "pilon" fracture to my tibia and fibula. "Pilon" is french for "hammer!" (as in whacking my shin bone repeatedly with a hammer.) The usual procedure for repairing the multiple jagged pieces of bone is to put the puzzle pieces back together as close as possible and insert a "nail" or rod into the top of tibia and down the middle of the bone and attach the fragments to the nail. But because I have had an artificial knee since 2000 (combined football and basketball injuries) the nail couldn't be inserted, so the docs pieced me back together with bubble gum and duck tape. Actually they did best they could with three large plates and lots of screws (you may have seen the x-rays on TV.)

Long story short, as can happen with pilon fractures, due to plate movement and infection, I officially have a condition called "nonunion," meaning bone growth at the fracture sites stopped somewhere in the process (and well before it reached solid bone;) and the weak area or "joint" is mis-aligning my leg from the injury site downward. Enter Gavriel Abramovich Ilizarov, the “Magician from Kurgan.”

Ilizarov was born in 1921 in the Caucasian Mountains in the Soviet Republic. He was the oldest of eight children - born to illiterate parents. He did not attend school until he was 11 years old because he had no shoes. However, he later was able to attend medical school in Crimea. He treated a huge number of wounded Russian soldiers in WWII and was faced with the daunting challenge of managing nonunions (bones that don’t heal) and osteomyelitis (infection in the bone) in the pre-antibiotic era. With the assistance of the local bicycle shop he worked out a way of immobilizing fractures using fine wires tensioned to a ring like the spokes of a wheel. This framework proved so stable that he was able to undertake very complex reconstructive procedures and treatment for nonunion. As stated by Dr. David M. Huebner, "The Ilizarov Technique is unique in all of orthopaedics in that it allows the surgeon to use the patient’s biology to form new bone."

So, beginning tomorrow, and for the next 6-9 months, I'll be sporting several "halos" in a Frankenstein-esque mime. Will Niezche's prognosis prove true? Well, consider this: An Olympic champion high-jumper and Russian national hero, Valery Brumel, had an infected tibial nonunion after a motorcycle accident. After 14 failed operations, he was finally referred to Dr. Ilizarov. Brumel was treated with the Ilizarov technique and one year later jumped 2 meters in a high jump competition!

I'm not dead yet, so here we go: "One - Two - THREE!"

7 comments:

Fred said...

Mark, I am concerned about this new technique they are using on you. I could be wrong, but based on the picture you posted, I think your so-called doctor might in fact be a baker or chef posing as a doctor! I suggest you have one of our investigators check it out!

Seriously, our thoughts and prayers are with you as you go under the knife this last (I hope) time.

Best,
Fred

Ambra said...

Good luck tomorrow Dad. We will be praying hard that this works. Afterall...Adam needs his Grandpa to teach him how to leg wrestle someday! We love you!

Tom said...

I wish you the best of luck on your operation.

Ric Cantrell said...

Hang in there Mark. There is all kinds of adventure yet to come - with or without a wooden leg.

Former Ilizarov patient said...

I came across the article in the Salt Lake Tribune on your Ilizarov surgery to save your leg. I had my first Ilizarov surgery (bilateral double level tibial lengthening)twenty years ago now and would have another on my arms two years later. I'd have a third procedure on my femurs, but that was with a different device. Over the years I have seen numerous successful outcomes from this procedure, including my own. I actually met Professor Ilizarov at a conference in NY in 1988 and my surgeon studied under him in Kurgan and then brought the procedure to the United States. I wish you the best of luck going forward.

The Senate Site said...

P.S. That Nietzche quote? Total baloney.

The Senate Site said...

P.S. That Nietzche quote? Total baloney.