New Lease on Life
Published February 2019
Charles’ Foot and Ankle Surgeries
Hiking, bicycling and backpacking in the outdoors with family has always been a passion for Charles Rohrer, age 79. In addition to being a lifelong long-distance runner and all-around athlete, Charles takes great pride in keeping up his tree-filled yard and home, where he has lived for 35 years. When pain in his ankles and feet started to get in the way of his activities, Charles turned to Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics for help.
Charles met Jeffrey Senall, MD, orthopaedic surgeon for Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics, to discuss a plan of treatment.
“Dr. Senall was highly recommended to me by my primary care physician, and I was comfortable with him because he had a great deal of experience in orthopaedics,” says Charles. “That was very important to me.”
The two men quickly established a rapport. “It’s extremely important to be able to relate to your doctor,” says Charles. “He speaks with clarity. We always understood each other perfectly. His medical and administrative staff are also excellent — very helpful.”
First Step: Foot Surgery
Dr. Senall and Charles developed a plan to start with surgery on Charles’ feet for bunions and fallen arches, which were causing him the most pain. Dr. Senall also diagnosed Charles with severe arthritis in his left ankle, but decided to hold off on addressing that until after the foot surgery.
“Before surgery, it’s important to listen to the patient and what they desire from their life,” says Dr. Senall. “You must take the journey together and help them along the way. Each patient is different, and they cannot be lumped into one category based on age or other factors.”
The foot surgery was a success, but Charles developed new knee pain over the years as his ankle arthritis worsened. He returned to Dr. Senall for further treatment, who carefully considered the next steps. Dr. Senall suggested that Charles needed two knee replacements and subsequent healing time before they could tackle the ankle problems. Charles followed that advice and underwent two successful knee surgeries.
The ankle problems continued, and Dr. Senall and Charles pursued a variety of treatment options.
“We discussed additional conservative treatment, including physical therapy, injections and braces,” Dr. Senall recalls. “Unfortunately, they did not provide relief, and then we were discussing total ankle replacement.”
A New Ankle…and New Adventures
While a total ankle replacement may not be standard for someone of Charles’ age, Dr. Senall’s advice was guided by Charles’ goals and lifestyle. “The amazing thing about Mr. Rohrer was that, despite now being in his late 70s, he remained very active and was determined to get back to the activities that he loved,” says Dr. Senall. “Because of this, we discussed performing ankle replacement instead of an ankle fusion. An ankle replacement would allow him to regain motion in his ankle with a faster recovery. This would allow him to do some moderate hiking and get back to camping and the outdoors, which he loved.” Three short months after surgery, Charles was pain-free and walking on his new ankle. “I have a lot more mobility now,” he says. “I’m not plagued with constant aches. It was stressful before, because any time I took a step, it hurt. It felt like walking on a sprained ankle. Now, that burden is gone.”
Charles’ family was ecstatic that he was able to join them again in their outdoor adventures. His son even wrote a heartfelt thank-you note to Dr. Senall, explaining what his father’s mobility meant to the whole family.
“I’ve got a new lease on life, thanks to Dr. Senall,” says Charles. “Joint replacements can be daunting, but my advice is to take care of the problems as soon as possible. It’s truly given me a second chance.”