Life-changing accident When Tim O’Leary was 15 years old, he was in an accident with a train that required an amputation at his ankle. While Tim, who is now 33 years old, was grateful that his doctors in Pennsylvania preserved as much of his leg as possible, he had great discomfort at the bottom of … Read More
When Tim O’Leary was 15 years old, he was in an accident with a train that required an amputation at his ankle. While Tim, who is now 33 years old, was grateful that his doctors in Pennsylvania preserved as much of his leg as possible, he had great discomfort at the bottom of his limb when he tried to run.
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Tim remained as active as possible, golfing and even snowboarding, but still, something that many people take for granted—running across the street to beat a traffic light—was extremely difficult due to the impact on his leg. He dreamed of someday being able to run in a race such as a 5K.
Then Tim heard about the innovative Ertl procedure, in which a more radical amputation is performed that can dramatically improve people’s ability to engage in weight-bearing activities. As he learned more about the procedure, he suddenly wondered if his goal of running a 5K might be within reach.
Ertl procedure can increase weight-bearing abilities
Tim researched the Ertl procedure for several years, and during that time, he connected with a firefighter from Kansas who had undergone the procedure successfully and now competes in Ironman triathlons. While this accomplishment definitely caught his attention, Tim had an even bigger motivator for moving forward: He and his wife were planning to start a family and he wanted to be able to “chase after my kids.”
Tim, who lives in New York state, contacted Cleveland Clinic, one of the few centers in the country that offers the Ertl procedure. Daniel Clair, MD, chairman of the Department of Vascular Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, successfully performed the surgery in October 2011—and Tim says that he’s never looked back.
“The Ertl procedure is an amputation that bridges the gap between the two bones in the calf,”Dr. Clair says. “This bridging stabilizes the bones in the calf, providing a more stable and stronger amputation so that patients will be able to weight bear, when they could not before.”
He explains that patients who have failed or troublesome amputations will sometimes benefit from the Ertl procedure if there is enough limb and tissue left around the amputation. Professor Janos Ertl, Sr., MD, of Hungary, pioneered the procedure—which includes bone, nerve and muscle reconstruction—in order to return people to a more active life. Surgeons have refined the procedure since it was first performed in the 1920s, and patients have experienced excellent outcomes.
Dr. Clair adds: “The amputation is more stable in the socket of the prosthesis and patients can increase their activity levels to degrees they no longer thought they could—walking, biking, running and even jumping without difficulty.”
Sprinting to the finish line
As for Tim and that 5K he dreamed of running? He’s run more than one, definitely held his own, and even has the video to prove it:
When Tim races, he uses the “Catapult” foot made by Freedom Innovations—the same carbon-fiber running blade being used by elite paralympians.
“I’m pretty much exactly where I’d hoped to be,” Tim says. “I’m able to get out and run a few miles once or twice a week. Basically, I no longer have to worry about my leg. Before the Ertl, I had to be careful not to overdo things, or else I’d be sore for days. Now, the harder I push it, the stronger it gets.”
He adds: “And now I can run across the street without even thinking about it.” Tim had a check-up with Dr. Clair in May, and he is doing so well that he doesn’t need to return for 5 years.
And that’s not the only good news
In March, Tim and his wife welcomed their first child, a baby boy. Tim now has no worries about keeping up with their newest family member once he starts crawling and walking.
Dr. Clair says that he couldn’t be happier about Tim’s success. “When you get a patient who has struggled with an amputation, and they can finally walk or run without difficulty—they are extremely gratified, and it is extremely rewarding.”