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Patient Stories

140.6 Miles With a Broken Wrist

Athlete Tackles Ironman With an Assist From Physician

Dena Colie had spent six months training vigorously for the New York Ironman when she had a devastating setback. Thankfully, she was able to get across the finish line with an assist from Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics.

A Fall and a Break

One evening, Dena was enjoying the dog park with her friends and her dog, Kaia. During their walk, Kaia caught Dena off-guard and came barrelling behind her mid-step, sending Dena into the air. In order to brace her fall, she outstretched her arm, and her hand landed hard against the ground.

“Even though it was my first broken bone, I knew it right away. I could hear the crack,” says Dena. Though she was not initially in a lot of pain, her wrist began swelling quickly. She immediately headed to the emergency department.

After a series of X-rays, Northwestern Medicine Hand Surgeon Thomas W. Kiesler, MD, confirmed the diagnosis: A distal radius fracture, a common injury from falls. “Anytime you have a fall that causes persistent pain in your wrist, you should get evaluated to make sure there is not a break,” says Dr. Kiesler.

Getting Back on Track

Dr. Kiesler, who has participated in a number of athletic events himself, understood how important the Ironman race was to Dena. “It’s always difficult when people are trying to accomplish something, and they have an accident that has the potential to derail that plan,” he says. “The injury has to take priority.”

Together, Dr. Kiesler and the Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics team worked with Dena to come up with a plan that would allow her to continue training. “What I appreciate most is that they saw me as an athlete and that I still had that goal,” says Dena. Slowly, and with careful medical oversight, she began increasing her training in preparation for the Ironman. She used a waterproof cast so she could continue swimming, and she used modified techniques when biking. “I was able to continue my mission as best as I could.”

Meanwhile, her healing continued to take priority. “We would see her weekly to make sure the fracture was healing appropriately,” Dr. Kiesler says.

But Dena experienced another hurdle during her healing. “One day, I had a sharp pain in my forearm, followed by tingling. I realized I couldn’t straighten out my thumb,” she explains.

Dr. Kiesler says this condition is not unusual following a wrist fracture. “There is a tendon that extends to the thumb that runs over the break, and sometimes that tendon ruptures,” he explains. “We can never predict when that will happen.”

The issue meant that Dena would need an extensor tendon transfer to restore the ability to extend her thumb, but she chose to hold off on surgery until after the Ironman.

Becoming an Ironman

Despite her setbacks, Dena completed the Lake Placid Ironman, nestled in New York state’s Adirondack Mountains. “I don’t think I can describe it,” she explains, recounting the event. “Whatever finish line you choose to do, it is a pretty amazing experience.”

“I think the biggest takeaway is that there’s always a path to your goal,” she continues. “When those obstacles come up, you have to adapt and move forward. Dr. Kiesler was always extremely positive and never gave me the feeling I would not make it to the finish line. An Ironman is a huge undertaking, but to have done it with an injury makes the journey even more special to me.”

Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics

Thomas W. Kiesler, MD
Thomas W. Kiesler, MD
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  • Primary Specialty Hand Surgery
  • Secondary Specialty Orthopaedic Surgery
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