PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — On a beautiful morning in downtown Pensacola, Florida on May 6th, News 5 reporter, Drexel Gilbert, was on her daily morning run. It was an average morning until her foot got caught in a utility cover, her knee hit the sidewalk and her life changed. An ambulance ride and ER visit confirmed a radial head fracture in her elbow, but a much worse injury to her kneecap.
“The patella is fractured, broken, and you can see on that x-ray there it’s in two pieces and pretty widely displaced,” said Andrews Institute orthopedic surgeon Dr. Christopher O’Grady upon viewing the xrays. Dr. O’Grady sees hundreds of knee injuries a year. He said a completely fractured patella is rare.
“This is only about 1% of all skeletal fractures and so it only occurs when you have that really sudden, high energy, direct blow to the front of the knee. I don’t think this would have happened if you’d just slipped and fell, so you must have been getting pretty close to your top speed there,” said O’Grady, adding, “This is a painful, painful injury. “
Thankfully, it was an injury Dr. O’Grady could repair in surgery
“You have to have this repaired in order to not only run again but to walk,” said O’Grady.
And it turns out the very thing that was behind the accident, Drexel’s daily run, would work for her in the operating room.
“You’ve got healthy strong bones undoubtedly from your running and athletic activity and so in some of these cases, it’s really challenging because the pieces can be multiple and small fragments and poor bone quality. Yours are going to be two big healthy pieces that should go back together very nicely.”
Friday, May 10, Drexel was wheeled into the operating room. Before that, Dr. O’Grady explained what would happen.
“We’ll place a couple of screws parallel to the fracture site, then we’ll wind a little wire around it to what’s called a figure 8. It gives you tension across the kneecap so when you start rehabbing that will actually help,” said O’Grady.
After a successful surgery, Drexel was sent home with a nerve block pain pump to control the immediate and most severe pain. Then on Monday, May 13, less than 72 hours after surgery, she headed to Andrews Institute to begin physical therapy with therapist, Serena Dunham.
How did Drexel handle that first session? “Pretty much you were petrified,” said Dunham. “You probably couldn’t believe why you were in physical therapy so soon after surgery.” Not an uncommon reaction, say therapists. Drexel admits the sessions, especially the early ones, were hard and sometimes painful. But each time she saw progress.
Total recovery will take 3-4 months. Now in the homestretch, Drexel asked if Dr. O’Grady had words of caution about staying active as we grow older.
“It was an accident,” said O’Grady. “It was a freak accident that you couldn’t have prevented. I would not tell you or anybody else to not exercise, and not try to go out and achieve that fast mile time you were looking for. For some people, it’s wanting to run a 10-and-a-half-minute mile. For others, it’s the passion of just being able to get don and do the gardening in their yards. So, I guess it’s kind of redefined athletics over the last 12 years.”
And the prognosis for Drexel’s athletic activity, according to a surgeon who’s treated many professional athletes including former NFL star Terry Bradshaw?
“I think you’ll be a better athlete on the other side of it when you’ve gone through something like this.”
The lessons Drexel says she’s learned on this journey are lessons that can be applied to any life crisis: Be patient. Be strong. Do what your medical teams (or other experts) say. And, perhaps most importantly, keep a positive attitude, even when you don’t feel like it.
Next Friday, Drexel will show us more about the critical role physical therapy plays in the recovery of injuries to the knee and other parts of the body.