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Oh, Snap! Danbury Group Helps Patient Gain Mobility With Ankle Replacement

BETHEL, CT – Debbie Mullady snapped and dislocated her ankle in a fall heading down steps at her Bethel home in December 2001. Fourteen years of pain, limited mobility and frustration ensued until she underwent ankle replacement surgery at the hands of Dr. Randolph Sealey of Danbury Orthopedics.

Debbie Mullady ankle replacement with OrthoConnecticut - patient success storyDebbi Mullady of Bethel endured 14 years of pain after breaking her ankle in a fall at her home. She finally got relief with ankle replacement performed by Danbury Orthopedics and Dr. Randolph Sealey.

Mullady, who had the surgery in December 2015, almost 14 years to the day after the fall, is now back to full health. Her pain is gone, she has regained her mobility and even returned to the diving board with a bang. “I did a backflip last summer to celebrate,’’ said Mullady, a lifelong swimmer and diver. “I haven’t been able to do that in quite a few years.”

Mullady broke her ankle in a fall that could have been part of a Three Stooges segment. She headed down frost-covered stairs with arms full of books as she headed for work as a bookkeeper for a construction company. She slipped on the frost and tumbled down the stairs of her home’s back deck. Her left ankle caught between a step as she fell. Her son saw the accident, rushed to help and he, too, tumbled. Her husband also rushed out to help his wife and son. “I never felt it,’’ Mullady said. “My body went into shock. I could’ve won $10,000 on 'America’s Funniest Videos.' It sure was a sight to see.”

But the following 14 years were no laughing matter. Doctors outfitted her ankle with nine screws and two plates, but in June 2002 her body started to reject them. She experienced significant pain, could no longer go for walks, shop at the mall or wear high heels.

With the pain unbearable, Mullady visited Dr. Sealey in 2013. He recommended ankle replacement. And Mullady rejected it.

“The ankle is a big deal,’’ Mullady said. “It supports your entire body. I was leery. I said I’ll come back to you when I can’t walk.”

“Patients are always a little hesitant,’’ Sealey said. “There is a lot more information available now. Back then, even though it wasn’t that long ago, there wasn’t as much information available. She had to do some research. It’s a big procedure especially when someone is in pain and had surgery before, there will always be some reservations.”

Mullady endured two more years of pain before returning to Sealey. “I went to get out of bed and could not put any pressure on my left ankle,’’ Mullady said. “I was in tears. I told my husband you have to take me to the doctor now. I had a wedding that weekend, and they gave me a cortisone shot but it did nothing. I made the appointment right then and there.”

“I was happy she finally decided to have it,’’ Sealey said. “I thought she was a good candidate and that she’d do well. Ankle replacement surgery is one of my favorite procedures. It’s difficult, very challenging, but very rewarding. It’s just great to see the function people are able to attain and the change in their quality of life after the surgery.”

X-rays of Debbie Mullady's ankle before and one year after replacement surgery by Dr. Randolph Sealey of Danbury Orthopedics.X-rays of Debbie Mullady's ankle before and one year after replacement surgery by Dr. Randolph Sealey of Danbury Orthopedics.

Sealey said ankle replacement surgery has evolved in the past 40 years. It started in the 1970s, but improvement has been dramatic in the past few years. “Hip and knee replacement are more common because arthritis is more common in those areas,’’ Sealey said. “Ankle replacement is similar to those. The materials are the same. The technology just took more time. It presents some unique challenges.”

Sealey said the name itself scares prospective patients. The procedure, however, involves the removal of about 11 millimeters of damaged bone. Sealey and his team use metal and plastic parts to create a new surface for bearing weight.

“A better name for it is a resurfacing procedure,’’ Sealey said. “It’s like retreading a tire that has lost its tread. The remaining parts of your ankle including tendons, ligaments, and bone are left behind after replacement surgery. The average lifetime of ankle replacement is 8-10 years. The mechanical parts will wear out over time depending on a patient's activity levels. If the parts wear out many times it is possible to do a revision surgery to preserve the replacement. When I explain that to patients, you can almost see their worry and concern disappear.”

Mullady recovered quickly. Within 12 weeks, she had regained mostly normal function. The hardest part, she said, was staying confined to a rehabilitation center with no cellphone service. “I was going crazy,’’ Mullady said. “I felt like I was an animal locked in a cage.”

She returned home and got around with a scooter, walker and eventually, a cane. She pushed herself, but not too aggressively. “By June, I was a new person,’’ said Mullady, who completed her backflip about a month later.

Mullady, who also endured a bout with kidney cancer, said she wishes she had consented earlier to the procedure.

“If I had known what it was going to be like, I would’ve done it years ago,’’ Mullady said. “I told Dr. Sealey I should have listed to you and not to me. I suffered for another three years which I didn’t have to do.”

Article by Tom Renner and Karen Tensa of Danbury Daily Voice.