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Passion to ride horses motivates grandmother to recover from broken wrist

Debbie Meili

Debbie Meili was finishing chores before leaving on a long-anticipated vacation to Barcelona, Spain, when she took a tumble that resulted in a six- month journey of perseverance.

She fell out of the barn loft at her Clearwater, Kansas, farm as she tried to step over a cat sprawled across a stair step. Her right hand took the brunt of the fall. Excruciating pain radiated up her arm.

Dazed but not deterred, she cradled her injured arm and flew to Barcelona with her husband, Royce, without seeking medical help. She endured the painful swelling in her arm for days before finally seeing a Spanish doctor. He told her that her wrist was fractured in multiple places.

Time-critical treatment 

When she returned to Wichita, Debbie saw Joshua Linnell, MD, a hand and upper extremity surgeon at Ascension Medical Group Via Christi on Founders’ Circle. He determined she had fractured her distal radius — the large wrist bone — into three pieces, including one break at her wrist joint. He scheduled surgery for the next day. 

Debbie’s case was complex. Joint fractures, like hers, can cause cartilage damage and lead to early post- traumatic arthritis. What’s more, her misaligned fracture had already begun to heal improperly. Dr. Linnell had to re-break and realign the bone, and place a steel plate in the wrist of the 58-year- old retired dental hygienist. 

A collaborative healing approach 

Debbie’s delayed treatment, and inability to freely move her wrist, arm and shoulder while she healed, made her more likely to suffer post-injury joint stiffness and loss of function. 

After six weeks of healing, her wrist movement was just 6 percent of what it should be. Dr. Linnell suggested she see Michael Reynolds, an occupational therapist at Ascension Via Christi Therapy Center on Founders’ Circle, to help improve range of motion in her entire arm.

Initially, she was leery of the often painful therapy and guarded her arm. Reynolds, however, gained her trust through education and support. Together, they worked on improving her wrist rotation and strength using resistance bands and other therapies. She also did home exercises.

The painful process was bearable because of Reynolds’ compassion, reassurance and his proficiency at “the art of distraction,” Debbie says. “Michael was my knowledgeable cheerleader and I, his willing pupil. I knew the only way I was going to get better was to learn from his expertise.”

Throughout her care, Debbie’s providers — who practice in the same building — worked as a cohesive team to deliver seamless treatment. Often, Dr. Linnell and Reynolds asked the other to stop in during Debbie’s appointments to discuss her progress.

Debbie took advantage of easy access to her team, frequently emailing Dr. Linnell and Reynolds with questions. Their quick feedback fueled her enthusiasm to work and heal, she says. 

Persistence pays off

Driven by the desire to return to her active life, Debbie was relentless in her home therapy. Today she is back in the saddle, enjoying riding her favorite quarter horse, Jasper. 

“Her healing is a direct result of her commitment,” Reynolds says. “She was very motivated; a therapist’s dream.” 

Debbie has regained about 90 percent wrist rotation and may improve further as she continues to exercise to prevent her wrist from “freezing up.” 

While her care team credits Debbie with her positive outcome, she gives the glory to God, and extends gratitude to her care providers and the outpouring of support she received from her church family, neighbors and family.