I Never Thought I’d Peddle Again
My name is Dalton Harben and I have a Conformis implant
When you are in the mountains climbing and skiing away from the lifts and the safety of ski patrol you rely heavily on your gear. Any gear issues I had in the past were easily resolved on the trail, so I never had to deal with gear failures of significant consequence prior to this one day. While descending a popular west side ravine on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire’s presidential range, I had both tech fittings rip out of my new ski touring boots at the same time. It couldn’t have happened in a worse spot as I careened an estimated 1,500 feet down the rocky tree laden slope. I had easily made the climb up, but the fitting in the boot failed while going downhill. It turns out this was due to expired tech fitting licensing. The boot company had decided to manufacturer their own tech fitting interface due to the license expiration, which ended in dismal results with many failures in the first week. I just happened to be the one that got severely injured leaving me with an indefinite battle with a crippling injury. Once I finally came to rest on the mountain after the pitch had mellowed a bit, I sat there clutching my leg with thoughts racing through my head of what had just happened. Luckily another skier in the group was an off duty national guard member and could get a helicopter which airlifted me off the slope in less than 90 minutes.
I endured seven different surgeries in the year after my accident, including living with a steel fixture cage drilled into my tibia and femur for four months to allow the bones to heal. My right knee suffered the worst of the damage, the medical designation being a severely distal femur fracture with a full dislocation of the knee. A combination of the trauma incurred during the fall and the fixator prohibiting my leg from movement allowed a tremendous amount of scar adhesion and muscle atrophy to develop. I was told it was the best they could do and that I will be in pain for the rest of my life with limited mobility. Suddenly, I had to depend on my wife and others to assist in many routine tasks during that year long recovery. I was resigned to my fate and indeed happy to be alive as was my family.
In the seven years since my fall, the pain in my knee became so overwhelming that I was essentially immobile with severe arthritis. The leg was stuck at 55 degrees bending and 15 degrees flat with a 30-degree varus bow leg causing the injured leg to be almost two inches shorter than the other. This was clearly a life changing event as outdoor recreation in various forms were routine for me. With time, after the injury, I could resume many of the activities that I loved but in a significantly hampered format accompanied by pain and imbalance.
I met and spoke with several surgeons across the country. The consensus was that there was nothing they could do, and I should be happy to be alive given the severity of the initial trauma. I had nearly given up hope, until a friend told me about the Conformis replacement knee. I found Dr. Bryan Huber at Mansfield Orthopaedics through the Conformis website and set up a meeting. He explained that the Conformis knee would be designed specifically to fit my anatomy, which could give me a better shot at restoring my mobility and allowing me to be more active. He was the only surgeon who gave me a positive prognosis of what he could do for me with a customized Conformis knee. Initially, it was difficult for me to process being told there was hope, and I could have some positive resolution after years of being told by many surgeons that what I had was the best they could do.
I had my knee replaced on May 22, 2017. The expected 90-minute surgery took more than five hours because there was so much scar tissue lining my knee. The surgical team all professed that it was the worst knee injury they had ever interacted with and weren’t exactly prepared for what they observed once they entered the knee. As a result of the dilapidated condition of the knee, they had to perform their first ever tibia tubercle in order to get the new knee into place. This is where they remove a top portion of the tibia then reinstall after getting the knee in. This caused a near 12-week delay in being able to go to physical therapy since I had to wait for the tibia procedure to heal enough where it would support weight and forced bending. The immediate weeks following were what I expected, painful with limited mobility. Then on about week four everything seemed to fall into place. I was walking with limited assistance, congruency in my leg was restored, I immediately felt more balanced, sympathy hip and back pains were dissipating, and I could feel my leg start to bend more than it had in the more than seven years living with the deformity.
Now it has been five months since my surgery and I cannot believe all that has changed. The pain that once caused me to tear up while trying to walk was quickly fading. I am considerably ahead of schedule with mobility. One activity that I had to abandon following the accident was mountain biking. Prior to the injury this was the centerpiece of my summer recreation. I never thought I would be able to rotate my leg enough to peddle again. However, within three months of the surgery I hopped on a bike and was totally blown away when I could peddle. I have been avidly biking since then and recently completed a 35-mile ride which was far more than I had ever done in a single day, even with my previous functioning leg. After my accident, I thought the life I knew was over. Conformis has changed my life to an extent I wasn’t sure was possible again. I have been afforded this opportunity to live life again how I want and to that end I am eternally grateful. I am now at 110 degrees bending and zero degrees flat. I have another procedure coming up to augment the range of motion even more. But after this and what I had, it is for sure all icing on the cake.
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