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Bones & Joints Inspired Stories

Hope Restored: ThedaCare Surgeons Team to Save Patient’s Leg

Last updated: September 8, 2023

It was really eye opening for me. It’s not fun that things like that have to be the reason that you kind of take on a new lease on life. But I I’m glad that I’m here, and I’m glad that it happened.

Sean Twomey, ThedaCare Trauma Patient

At a glance, Sean Twomey looks like any other 23-year-old. If you were to see him wearing shorts, you might spot the scars that climb his left leg and knee, but by no means are they his defining characteristic. More likely, you’d notice his easy smile and friendly way.

The people who have cared for Sean through a catastrophic trauma wouldn’t have it any other way.

Many of us take the ordinariness of our healthy bodies for granted. But Sean’s left leg — intact and able to walk, run, climb, and dance — is anything but ordinary. It’s extraordinary. His leg survived following a motorcycle accident, thanks to a dedicated team of surgeons, nurses, first responders, physical therapists, and countless others.

Sean says he’s forever grateful to each person who helped him, from the surgeons who saved his leg to the people who delivered his meals.

“They’re all a blessing,” he says. “I don’t think words would do it justice. But there’s only really one way to put it, and if I could say anything to every single person, I would just say thank you.”

Back to the Scene

The summer of 2021 held much in store for Sean. That July, he would turn 21. He planned to move out of his family’s home and begin life on his own.  

Everything changed one beautiful afternoon in June. Sean was riding his motorcycle home from work when a driver failed to yield to him at a busy intersection. The man hit Sean’s right side, and he was thrown from his motorcycle.

The hours that followed the accident were somewhat of a blur for Sean, but small moments stand out. A thought that “my mom’s going to kill me.” A witness — who happened to be a retired firefighter — stepping in to help. The good Samaritan called Sean’s mom and held Sean’s head steady while waiting for emergency responders to arrive.

ThedaStar soon arrived to transport him to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah. That played a critical role in helping doctors save Sean’s leg.

“Had I not been able to be transported via ThedaStar, I probably would have lost my leg just because of the factor of how much time I had with my injuries,” Sean says.

Dr. Josh Blomberg, the Orthopedic Trauma Surgeon who operated on Sean following the accident, agrees.

“As soon as that knee dislocates and that artery tears, you have six hours,” he says. “If you get beyond the six hours, you don’t have a leg anymore. Something like ThedaStar can get there in 15 minutes. He’s back to the ER in 15 minutes. That’s the difference of having your leg or not having your leg.”

Emergency Care

Once at the hospital, Dr. Blomberg and a full medical team assembled quickly to come up with an action plan. That was critical due to the severity of Sean’s injuries, which included a dislocated knee.

“The issue with the knee dislocation … is the artery that keeps your foot alive or gives blood flow to your foot is right behind your knee,” Dr. Blomberg says. “When you dislocate the knee joint, that artery is at risk.”

That artery doesn’t always get torn with a knee dislocation, but in Sean’s case, it did. That presented a challenge.

Dr. Blomberg needed to get Sean’s knee back into alignment. Following that, Dr. David Schultz, a General Surgeon and Medical Director of ThedaCare’s Level II Trauma Center, had to repair the vessel.

Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Schultz worked side by side on a series of complicated procedures. After their work was complete, Sean’s knee remained vulnerable to dislocating or going out of joint again. That meant Sean needed an external fixator. This involves placing pins in the thigh bone and shin bone. A bar on the outside of the skin then holds the knee stable.

Following Sean’s surgeries, he spent a few days in the intensive care unit. In all, he was in the hospital for two and a half weeks before returning home.

While Sean credits his whole family for helping him through the difficult time, he calls out his mom in particular. Kristine Twomey, a Nurse Practitioner, understood the medical side of what had happened and remained at Sean’s side in the hospital and throughout his recovery.

“She’s my personal, real-life superhero, and she always has been,” Sean says.

Next Phases

Though Sean returned home, his ordeal was far from over. He would later need surgeries to remove the external fixator and to reconstruct his knee. That’s where ThedaCare Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Eric Erickson came in.

“Sean had one of the most complex knee surgeries that I will address or treat,” Dr. Erickson says. “Basically, his knee was ripped off.”

Sean had a multi-ligament knee injury. Essentially, only one ligament in his knee remained intact, Dr. Erickson says.

In the reconstruction surgery, which Sean underwent in December 2021, Dr. Erickson used cadaver tissue to reconstruct ligaments and restore normal anatomy, resulting in a functional knee.

“It was the Super Bowl of knee reconstructions: an ACL reconstruction, a PCL reconstruction, posterolateral corner reconstruction, a freeing of the nerve from all the scar tissue, and then both medial and lateral meniscus root repairs,” Dr. Erickson says.

Reflecting on Sean’s case, Dr. Erickson recalls that he saw Sean for a whopping 18 visits over the course of one year.

“That’s obviously a significant number of times, but that’s how complex of an individual Sean is,” he says. “Each step, we’re communicating, asking questions, making sure there’s ample time for both him and his family to ask questions so they know what’s coming next.”

“He was phenomenal,” Sean says of Dr. Erickson. “He always kept me up to date and gave me hope. I felt like a friend or family member was helping me.”

Beyond Dr. Erickson, Sean also worked with physical therapists and many other dedicated professionals who helped him through his recovery.

Walking into the Future

For a period of eight months after his accident, Sean couldn’t walk or work. While that’s not the life experience any 20-something would ask for, he’s not bitter. In fact, he’s the opposite. He’s gained wisdom and clarity that belie his young age.

“Frankly, I probably wouldn’t have it any other way because it changed how I looked at things and how I go about my life now and appreciate it,” he says.

That means Sean doesn’t take for granted many aspects of life that other people do. He relishes everyday tasks, including getting up each day and going to work.

“That’s something that I realized that I missed,” he says. “And then when I really got back into doing the physical labor that I had enjoyed, I realized that it was extremely important to me.”

Today, Sean, who’s always loved working with his hands, is an electrical apprentice for Faith Technologies and lives in his own apartment. He travels around the state for his work. His knee hurts sometimes, but he can stand on his feet for hours, bend down, and climb ladders. Sean’s sister recently got married, and he danced at her wedding.

“This is the goal: to see Sean have a functional leg, doing the activities he wants to do, living the life he wants to live,” Dr. Erickson says. “This is why those of us who do advanced training do it, because we want we want to look at that challenge, face the challenge, conquer the challenge, and hopefully have a huge high five at the end.”

As for Sean, he’s introspective about his experience.

“It was really eye opening for me,” he says. “It’s not fun that things like that have to be the reason that you kind of take on a new lease on life. But I I’m glad that I’m here, and I’m glad that it happened.”

Learn more about orthopedic and trauma care available through ThedaCare.

Tags: ACL surgery orthopedic trauma surgery PCL surgery ThedaStar

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