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Banner: MGH blog - Broken ankle on Christmas leads to lengthy recovery for 89-year-old great-grandmother

Broken ankle on Christmas leads to lengthy recovery for 89-year-old great-grandmother

Carol Sisler faced a challenging recovery that required more than three months of therapy

For Carol Sisler, Decembers are always about celebrating and spending time with family. A week before last Christmas, Carol had a birthday. She turned 89 years old. She was active, still driving and eager to keep up with her great-grandchildren over the holiday.

The family spent Christmas Day at Carol’s grandson’s home in Woodbury. They shared a big family dinner. And then it was time to go home. But for Carol, not before she said goodbye to the kids.

“I was going to run upstairs and give goodnight hugs to a couple of the great-grandchildren before I left,” Carol recalled. She was on her way up the stairs when she collided with one of the children.

“I felt myself go backwards. And I thought, ‘This is not going to be good,’” she said.

A bad break on Christmas Day

Carol’s tumble was extremely serious. Her family rushed to her side. Her son-in-law, Jerry, is a retired doctor and her daughter, Susy, is a nurse. Everyone knew immediately that it was a bad break.

“I didn’t feel any pain at first. But I looked down and I could see that my foot was lying in a very unusual position,” Carol said.

“Carol broke all three sides of her ankle,” said Sarah Anderson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle surgeries at Regions Hospital. “This is a really challenging injury for the elderly because you have to be off your feet to allow the ankle to heal.”

A fall down the stairs led 89-year-old Carol Sisler to break her ankle on all three sides. 

The trauma team at Regions was able to place Carol’s bones back in place. Several surgeries followed. And, in all, it took two metal plates and 10 screws to realign her ankle.

“They talked to me. They let my family come in and stand beside me. They were compassionate and caring,” Carol said.

Carol faces a lengthy recovery

Carol faced a great challenge. At a minimum she faced a three to four month recovery. And that meant absolutely no weight on her foot for six to eight weeks or longer.

Image: Health blog - Carol Sisler physical therapy

Physical therapy was a key piece of Carol’s successful recovery.

“That can be devastating for an elderly patient,” said Dr. Sarah, which is what Carol and her family call her. “Sometimes patients aren’t able to get up again.”

Dr. Sarah said bone quality deteriorates as we age, but she felt that Carol’s fitness level and overall health before the accident gave her a good chance to succeed.

“She thought I had great bones for being an almost 90-year-old,” Carol said with a smile.

Getting back on her feet wasn’t easy

“I was pretty down about this. I didn’t see that I would ever be able to walk again,” Carol said.

The time she spent off of her feet was necessary for Carol’s ankle to heal. But the inactivity played a toll on her spirit.

“There was some time in there when I really didn’t care what happened to me,” Carol said. “It was so devastating to lose the use of your feet. You can’t go to the bathroom by yourself. You can’t get dressed. I didn’t feel like eating. I was not in good shape.”

Carol credits her faith in God, support from her family and encouragement from Dr. Sarah for helping her through those tough times.

“There was an appointment one day. It was a low-point. I started to cry. Dr. Sarah listened to me. And visited with me about it,” Carol remembered.

Dr. Sarah also remembered that conversation. On that day, at that moment, Carol didn’t need to know how an X-ray looked. She needed to be heard.

The orthopedic surgery team at Regions Hospital was able to realign Carol’s broken ankle using two metal plates and 10 screws. 

“It’s our job as physicians not only to treat the bone, but to remind ourselves it is only part of the bigger picture,” Dr. Sarah said. “Right now, it feels pretty bleak. But if we can get past that short period of time, we are going to get to the other side and hopefully, get back to feeling good.”

Walking on her own again

“It was a really exciting day when I told her she could put her foot on the ground and start putting weight on it and the walker at the same time,” said Dr. Sarah.

But that was just the first step. Over seven months after her fall, Carol has ditched the walker and is walking on her own.

Carol Sisler, right, with her daughter Susy. Carol is walking again on her own seven months after her fall down the stairs on Christmas Day. 

“Therapy was really hard, but I did dig into it,” she said. “I knew it was for my own good.”

And for the good of her family!

“She’s definitely a success story,” said Sarah Bjelde, another of Carol’s three children.

Helping others like Carol

The Regions Hospital Foundation Wine Auction will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16. Proceeds from the event will help fund a program called the Regions Hospital Orthopedic Trauma Center. Funding will be used to enhance care for patients, promote discovery and innovation in the area of fractures and injury, and educate the next generation of specialists to handle these types of catastrophic injuries.

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