Successful ankle fusion enables Tom to return to his passion for cycling and snowboarding

Following traumatic snowboarding accident, Tom sought life changing ankle surgery to save his firefighting career

Back in March 2019, Tom experienced a devastating snowboarding accident and fractured his left ankle. Following the accident, Tom was hospitalised in France and underwent surgery to stabilise his ankle enough to allow him to travel home. Once he arrived home, Tom went to A & E in Colchester, where he had scans and X-rays done and booked to see a surgeon three days later.

Before Tom could see the surgeon, the Colchester orthopaedic team had a call from the Royal London Hospital, who had received copies of his scans, and felt that he would be better treated there due to the specialist nature of his fracture.

Tom got an appointment with Mr Nima Heidari, a renowned foot and ankle consultant, the next week at the Royal London Hospital to discuss the damage and a treatment plan. Mr Heidari emphasised the seriousness of the injury and advised him of what to expect during the treatment. He discussed various different treatment options and recommended that Tom had an external fixator fitted. This treatment method did not require opening up his leg and meant no further scar tissue.

Tom explains: “I feel really lucky to have been referred to Mr Heidari straight away. I met a number of people at the Royal London who had been sent to him after treatment elsewhere, which had not worked out, and they were then referred to him.”

After his appointment, Tom learned that he needed an operation to get the ankle shape correct and pulled out to the right length. Initially, the surgical team had to install a basic A-frame X-fix temporarily to hold the ankle in position. Following this surgery, Tom saw Mr Heidari every week and a long-term treatment plan was discussed. Mr Heidari warned that, due to joint damage, his ankle movement would be reduced and chronic arthritis could follow.

In May 2019, at the recommendation of Mr Heidari, Tom had an ankle fusion and, during the surgery, a Taylor Spatial Frame was fitted. The surgery was successful and Tom went home just four days later.

However, in November 2019, Tom was informed that his tibia had not healed properly. Tom underwent a further operation to re-break his fibula and compress his tibia. Another ring of frame was also added at this time, which now covered from beneath his knee to his ankle. Tom could then adjust the frame daily by 1mm to lengthen and rotate his leg. He was supplied with a programme to help him adjust his frame to the given measurements.

In May 2020, Mr Heidari removed Tom’s taylor spatial frame. Tom states: “The entire process took around 20-30 minutes. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but as soon as it was off, I was delighted. It is worth it, to walk out of there with nothing on my leg.”

Tom’s leg was bandaged and he was advised to wear an air boot. Tom started to weight bear with the air boot after 3-weeks and after just 5-weeks he was riding his bike. Tom remarks, “By 8 weeks, I was walking steadily without the air boot. I went back to see Mr Heidari after 8 weeks with the boot in my rucksack! I carried on progressing and started a physio programme.” Tom’s physiotherapy is ongoing, but he can now race mountain bikes, ride a road bike with no issues and walk his dog for 2-3 miles.

To summarise his treatment with Mr Heidari: “I did my homework before treatment and was really pleased to have been referred to Mr Heidari. He tells you how it is but at the same time he doesn’t baffle you with medical terminology. He is keen for you to progress all the time and was able to overcome any issues we came across. He was very encouraging about my return to snowboarding and skiing and extremely knowledgeable. He appreciated how important it was for me as a firefighter for my leg to get back to the same length and he was understanding of my needs. I’m really pleased with the decision to fuse my ankle, which proved to be really beneficial otherwise I would still be in a lot of pain and facing a further operation. I’m really happy with the outcome.”

Mr Heidari concludes: “I am so pleased Tom has done so well after his serious injury. In cases such as Tom, it is a long journey. Whilst at the beginning it is difficult to appreciate that things will improve, however in time and with hard work and patience, they will get back to normal.”

October 2020