Scott Quillen was running out of options. Growing tired of dealing with constant pain in his ankle, multiple failed remedies, and a low quality of life, he decided there was only one option left.
Amputation. The act of surgically cutting off a limb. While most people would never imagine that they would voluntarily request an amputation of their leg below the knee, Quillen said it seemed like the best option available following a gruesome accident in March 2010 that left him with multiple serious injuries including a shattered fibula and a compound dislocation of his right ankle.
According to Quillen, a resident of Somerset and a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, he was test-driving a mini bike for his brother in Maryland when he fell off the bike.
“It all happened so fast,” Quillen said. “I guess I put my foot down to try to catch myself.”
His tibia- commonly known as a shinbone - pushed through his ankle, pushing his foot to the side. Quillen was immediately rushed to the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore for shock trauma and basic reconstruction.
Following basic reconstruction and shock trauma operations, Quillen said he was healing well until, months after the operation, he was experiencing severe pain whenever he attempted to walk.
The pain continued to increase over time, as Quillen sought solutions to eliminate the pain that was affecting his everyday life. Various pain management treatments all failed to remedy the situation. Quillen tried wearing a brace, but that led to pain in his knee.
“Every step I took was painful,” Quillen said. “It got to the point where my quality of life was zero and I was willing to do anything to stop the pain.”
The pain became so severe that Quillen began to heavily consider amputating his leg below the knee. He considered the possibility to such a degree that he spoke to another veteran who was an amputee following injuries he had sustained while serving in the Middle East.
“It just seemed like the best option at that point,” he said.
However, Quillen changed his mind after a conversation he had with a couple at a yard sale. The woman informed Quillen that she had undergone a Total Ankle Replacement Surgery. At first, Quillen was unsure.
“I had never even heard of this procedure before,” Quillen said. “But at this point, I was elated to try anything.”
Total Ankle Arthroplasty, also known as Total Ankle Replacement, is a surgical procedure that orthopedic surgeons use to treat ankle arthritis, which can occur from typical wear and tear or in Quillen’s case, a traumatic injury. According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS), the bone is cut which allows for the placement of metal and plastic components that re-create the ankle joint.
“The goal of Total Ankle Arthroplasty is to improve ankle motion so the patient has less pain during activity,” according to AOFAS.
Dr. Collin E. Ball, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine at KentuckyOne Health Orthopedic Associates in London, Ky., was tasked with performing the operation. He said that ankle replacement surgery has been around for a while, but had limited success. However, the “newer generation” of ankle replacement surgery, which according to Ball has came about in the last 5-10 years, has improved drastically and had much higher success rates on patients.
Ball said he has performed 12 Total Ankle Replacement operations since arriving in London in 2008. He said he is very selective in choosing which patients to perform the operation, as patients must fit specified criteria to be eligible for the procedure. These criteria include factors such as age, weight, activity level, etc. The surgery usually lasts two hours on average, but Ball said that it can fluctuate with different surgeons and other factors.
“This procedure is not for everyone,” Ball said. “There are a lot of factors that have to be considered.”
When Ball met with Quillen, he determined that Total Ankle Replacement was the best option for him. Quillen met the required criteria and the procedure would allow him to regain the range of motion in his ankle that he desired to continue riding bikes and other activities.
“When I first met with Scott, he was heavily considering amputation,” Ball said. “He was in a severe amount of pain and wanted to have range of motion in his ankle... Having this surgery was the best fit for him. Everything just added up.”
Quillen opted to have the surgery instead of amputation. He had two procedures, the first in November of 2012. Following a few complications, he had another procedure in June 2013. Since then, he has not had any complications from that procedure.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Ball and all those people,” he said. “They’ve been fantastic.”
Nearly three years later, Quillen said that the procedure was nothing short of life-changing. He is able to take part in all the activities he enjoys, including bike-riding, and is pain-free. He also noted that he no longer has to take any pain medications.
“It’s really been wonderful since then,” Quillen said. “It’s been nearly three years now - I believe I had that procedure on June 16 - and it’s completely changed my life.”