Walking Tall

Ankle replacement ends painful experience

BY CATHY BREITENBUCHER

Years of ankle pain nearly grounded Eric Swenson, a commercial pilot who works international routes for a major airline. Then he met Dr. Brian C. Law, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. Law did ankle replacement surgery that not only allowed Swenson to resume everyday activities but also saved his career.

“I’m very happy I did it,” says Swenson, now 51, who had the surgery in December 2012. Many people have never heard of ankle replacements. Just 25,000 a year are performed in the United States, compared with 330,000 hip and 600,000-plus knee replacements. Most ankle replacement patients are in their 60s or 70s.

“Ankles just aren’t as often arthritic as knees and hips,” Law says. “What causes most ankle arthritis is trauma — a fracture, a lot of bad sprains, instability or unusual stress due to a deformity such as very, very high arches.”

Swenson can’t say why his left ankle became problematic, but he thinks the strain of a bad right knee (which was replaced in 2010) might have been a factor. One doctor recommended fusion surgery, which would have limited the range of motion in his ankle.

While an artificial ankle can wear out in 10 to 15 years, Swenson isn’t worried about that right now. He’s happy to once again walk pain-free through airports, and to enjoy hunting, hiking and bicycling near his new home in Dallas.

“I would recommend it to anybody who’s willing to go through the recovery process and work at getting better,” says Swenson, who followed up his course of physical therapy with regular weight training at a gym.

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