DISABILITIES

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By Daniel J. Vance


Tom Schwartz reads this column in the Blackduck (Minn.) News. Not long ago, he emailed to provide information about knee walkers, one of which he had used for two months after recent ankle fusion surgery due to degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis.

But first, his story: “Arthritis in my (ankle) joint was diagnosed in the early '90s,” said 55-year-old Schwartz in a telephone interview. “The joint didn't have any integrity, so if I stepped on a sidewalk crack, for example, the joint would roll out on me.”

A doctor said the acute angle and severe pressure he had continually placed on his ankle while playing as a football lineman earlier in life had led to his developing arthritis. He had surgery back in the early '90s to reinforce ligaments and chisel away excess bone that had caused joint pain and loss of motion.

Beginning in 2000, he began re-experiencing ankle pain. By 2005, it had progressed to the point an orthopedic surgeon was recommending, due to Schwartz's young age, an ankle fusion instead of joint replacement. He initially balked at the idea because of the possibility of a permanent, unpredictable outcome.

“Then I had an escalation of pain associated with all ankle movement,” he said of the last four years. “I felt pretty good walking on flat, firm surfaces, but anything else and the pain was nearly impossible. Depending on foot placement, I could have acute or intense pain.”

On March 1 this year, an orthopedic surgeon performed an ankle fusion. The result?

“Going in, I was able to walk the dog two blocks at most and walking a golf course was nearly impossible,” he said. “I'm now, after the operation, walking the dog and walking some on the golf course. I'm optimistic. Maybe by the end of summer I'll be able to walk the entire golf course.”

He now has only minor tissue pain, which should heal. If any severe pain reappears, he still has the option of an ankle joint replacement.

“I still have my blue disability sticker (for parking),” said Schwartz. “But I'm using it less now than I did before the operation. I'll make that decision (about turning it in) as we approach the fall.”

As for his original email: He said after his March 1 operation, he found getting around using a knee walker was far superior to crutches or a wheelchair.

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