Back on Her Feet: From Broken Ankle to New Implant
Debbie Ennis was at a low point. About six months earlier, the Gloucester resident suffered a car accident that took her beloved husband and left her struggling to care for herself. She had broken ribs, an abdomen wound and a broken left ankle.
"I was fortunate I had my daughter and her family locally to help me," says Debbie, now 67, "but I thought nothing would work out ever again."
Her ribs and abdomen improved, but not her ankle. As a nurse of 44 years, Debbie was used to being on her feet and moving around. Limited movement, topped with severe pain, added to her grief and isolation.
While Debbie had retired before the accident, part-time nursing afterward presented a chance to both help others and herself. Dr. Matthew A. Hopson, DPM, foot and ankle surgeon and director of the Sentara Foot and Ankle Center, made that possible when he met Debbie in the fall of 2016.
He observed that immediately after the accident, her ankle had been stabilized with screws to fix one of the fractures. She had lost a portion of her tibia, and anchors had been placed to try to make a new ligament.
"Mrs. Ennis was a more difficult case than we typically see, because not only did she have an arthritic ankle," notes Dr. Hopson, "she was also missing an anterior portion of her medial malleolus."
To evaluate the appropriateness of a total ankle replacement, Debbie underwent an MRI to identify what remained of her ligaments and a CT scan to evaluate her bones.
Dr. Hopson selected a customized total ankle implant. Debbie saw what her new ankle joint was going to look like in the 3D model beforehand. Throughout her time with Dr. Hopson, his staff and the staff at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, she was moved by everyone's openness and professionalism.
"I'm not easily impressed," Debbie says. "There was nothing I could possibly criticize, from the people who did my pre-op tests and those who welcomed me at the admissions desks to the nurses on the floor where I stayed for a few days. I never waited more than five minutes for pain drugs, and yet I didn't feel like my nurses were ever rushing around."
After a month and a half of recovery, Debbie was back on her feet and pain free. She started working part-time soon after.
"I wear a FitBit in my job as a nurse supervisor," she says, "and it tracks me walking up to five miles a shift. When I go to Busch Gardens, I can walk for eight hours up and down hills."