Donna Pojnar doesn’t have to imagine what it’s like to live with chronic pain. She knows. She has lived with the discomfort, and physical and emotional distraction, of always knowing something is not right.
But no longer. Justin Fleming, DPM, FACFAS of University Orthopaedic Associates (UOA) has changed all that. And she sings his praises for doing so. “He’s a wonderful doctor and caring person. People need to know,” she says.
Pojnar, a 53-year-old registered dental assistant from Hazlet Township, finally found relief after over 30 years of chronic pain from an ankle injury. It happened in an instant: She was jumping over a fence and landed the wrong way on her right foot, injuring her ankle. “It healed wrong,” she says, and while she could live with the result, about five years ago it became another story.
“Gradually, the pain stopped me from being as active as I was,” Pojnar says. By spring 2018, she could feel the extent of how the arthritis that had developed in her ankle made the joint and surrounding bones begin to deteriorate.
“But a year ago, it was just a struggle to get through my everyday routine,” says Pojnar. She wasn’t able to walk for the entire hour of her lunch break, as she previously had done, and after 12-hour work days, including her commute, she was simply too exhausted to go to the gym.
Pojnar kept putting off medical treatment. Meanwhile, she tried lifestyle changes. “Maybe if I could take weight off, it would get better on its own,” she thought. But that was weight she struggled to lose due to her inability to be physically active.
However, she persevered through an exercise routine, pushing herself to go to the gym every other day. “I’m the type of person who has to exercise,” she says. And she did drop 10 pounds.
A Painful Wake-Up Call
However, in the winter of 2018, Pojnar paid the price for her consistent right ankle weakness, which had caused her to favor her left side, and resulted in instability. Carrying a basket of clothes down a flight of stairs, she slipped on a piece of fallen laundry, breaking her left ankle.
That broken ankle was placed in a boot to heal. It finally motivated her to take care of her right ankle. She met Dr. Fleming of UOA for his medical opinion.
Arthritis has no cure. Eventually, the cartilage wears away entirely, and the options are:
- To live with the pain and manage as best one can
- To have a joint replacement
Because Pojnar’s attempts at nonsurgical management proved unsuccessful, Dr. Fleming believed she was a candidate for a total ankle arthroplasty.
“When I met Dr. Fleming, I just knew I would be in the best hands. It was the impression he gave me,” said Pojnar. “He was soft-spoken and also made me feel at ease. I liked his overall demeanor. I also read all of his credentials. I was impressed by his working with the military and how he volunteered to provide humanitarian medical care overseas.”
While Pojnar had spent a good deal of time researching various orthopaedic surgeons, finding Dr. Fleming was also a matter of location. “I was ecstatic,” she says. “This was going to be perfect. It is so convenient to find a well-qualified orthopaedic surgeon a few towns over. Everything just fell into place.”
The ankle is one of the most flexible and mobile joints in the body. A healthy ankle can move forward, backward and twist sideways. The ankle joint also contains the cartilage that helps the ankle to absorb shock.
Dr. Fleming reviewed Donna Pojnar’s X-rays with her, showing a complete wearing away of her ankle cartilage. He ultimately used The INBONE® Total Ankle for her replacement. This system benefits from the innovation that recognizes one size does not fit all. It contains appropriate components based on a patient’s size and structure from which the surgeon can select.
On the Road to Recovery
As of April 2019, Donna Pojnar is eight weeks into her recovery from surgery and attending physical therapy sessions three times a week. She reports on her progress:
“I weaned myself off prescription pain medications days after the surgery, and I stopped taking all pain medications by about six weeks. I’m very pleased with that because I was taking so many over-the-counter pain medications for so many years. It’s so nice not to have to rely on them. I feel I am progressing very well.”
While her ultimate source of exercise has been riding a stationary bike and she wants to get on the treadmill, Pojnar really wants to return to those long walks. “I miss taking my dogs for walks, and my husband and I want to go camping,” she says.
Donna Pojnar is well on her way to achieving her goals. Her second post-op visit with Dr. Fleming produced a personal landmark for her. “Dr. Fleming actually moved my ankle up and down, and I didn’t hear that grinding, clicking noise,” she says with the excitement of a lottery winner.
“’Thank you so much,’” I told Dr. Fleming, “and I started to cry,” Pojnar says. She cries even now telling the story. “I know I’m going to get there; I know I’m going to walk with no difficulty.”
Finally, with those tears, she paid Dr. Fleming the ultimate compliment. “You have no idea that you’re going to change my life,” she told him.
If you are experiencing pain from ankle arthritis, request an appointment with a foot and ankle specialist at UOA. We will give you treatment options, up to and including total ankle replacement.