Making history

When John Brown experienced ankle problems in recent years, he had no idea that he might play a part in a little bit of local medical history.

Brown, 71, of Waterville, recently underwent an ankle replacement procedure, the first of its kind at Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

“I had to have something done. It was so painful,” he recalled.

For several years, Brown endured pain. At different times, he had sprained his ankle. Once, he’d even broken it.

Brown, a retired Lundy Construction masonry worker, had been active much of his life. He liked to hunt and get outdoors.

But such activities became hard to do.

Sometimes his ankle would just, as he put it, “go out on” him.

Brown was referred to Dr. Zachary Ritter, a Susquehanna Health foot and ankle specialist, who decided Brown was a good candidate for an ankle replacement.

“He was a candidate because he had failed conservative care,” Ritter said. “Injections weren’t working. He didn’t have a lot of deformity of the ankle either.”

Brown said he considered not going through with the procedure but eventually concluded it was his best option.

“I was going to get it (the ankle) fused. But, I didn’t want to do that,” he said.

Brown underwent surgery on Jan. 22.

Ankle replacement is performed by removing the worn-out ankle joint, which connects the lower leg bones – tibia and fibula – with the bones of the foot.

The procedure, Ritter explained, consists of placing pieces of metal in the bones of the leg and foot and connecting them with a plastic implant.

The replaced joint allows for smooth motion so the foot easily can bend up and down.

Following surgery, Brown was hospitalized just briefly.

So far, he’s been happy with the results.

“It’s doing real well,” Brown said. “It’s been seven weeks. I am putting 75 percent of my weight on it now.”

Therapy consisted of bending and twisting the tendons surrounding the ankle.

“For the first few weeks after surgery, they (patients) stay off it but just do range-of-motion exercises. About week three or four, we allow them to start walking on it,” Ritter said. “For a lot of these people, their ankle hasn’t worked in a while. The role of the physical therapist is extremely important.”

Ritter predicted Brown eventually should be able to get around about as good as ever.

The procedure, he said, is not normally recommended for patients who are older than Brown.

“For patients in their mid-70s or so, it becomes less effective,” he said. “Mr. Brown is in his 70s, but he is a pretty high-functioning guy.”

Brown, for his part, is looking forward to hunting again but conceded he probably won’t be ready for spring gobbler season, which starts April 27.