Emory Physicians Help Save Woman’s Leg from Amputation

When you go to the hair salon, you expect to walk out feeling refreshed. But instead of sporting a new haircut, Adela Gongora Arciniegas was carried out on a stretcher and rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery.

Adela, who is almost 70 years old, slipped in the salon and took a devastating fall.

“I had an open fracture of my right leg – involving the tibia and fibula,” explained Adela. “I was shocked. It was very painful.”

The skin on Adela’s leg had broken open near the site of her fractured bone. She also sprained her left foot, fractured her left hand, tore the meniscus in her left knee, and injured her left elbow and lower back.

“She had so many injuries you wouldn’t believe it. It was like a storyline from a bad show,” remembers Adela’s daughter Claudia.

Unexpected Journey Leads to Scary Prognosis

Adela’s fall forced her on a medical journey that started with emergency surgery and nearly ended with a leg amputation.

Initially, a rod was inserted between her knee and ankle to support the fractured leg bone. Afterward, she spent two and a half months in a rehab facility, which wasn’t easy for an active grandmother. Adela — a retired IT engineer who loves music, family and her part-time job in a school cafeteria — was eager to get her life back, but rehab didn’t go well.

“I couldn’t walk. My leg hurt. It just wasn’t healing,” remembers Adela.

With further testing, doctors discovered osteomyelitis – a very serious infection of the bone in the area where Adela’s open fracture was. Treating the osteomyelitis was a multi-step process:

  • She took a daily regimen of IV antibiotics for more than four weeks to fight the infection.
  • She underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy, where she breathed a high concentration of pure oxygen to help promote healing.
  • Doctors removed the rod inside her leg, cleaned the bone and put a device around her leg to keep it secure.

“It was a huge, circular metal frame around her leg, with screws going straight to the bone,” describes Claudia. “She couldn’t put weight on her leg and was confined to a wheelchair.”

Two months later, Adela’s fears became reality. Even after extensive treatment, her open leg wound wasn’t healing and the infection hadn’t gone away.

“Doctors told me there was nothing else we could do. They wanted to move forward with amputation,” she remembers.

Emory Doctors Offer Woman New Chance to Save Her Leg

The idea of losing a leg nearly crushed Adela. But, even as she was being fitted for an artificial leg, she didn’t give up hope. She decided to call another hospital — Emory Healthcare — to get a second opinion.

“The first person my mom talked with at Emory was a true angel who spent lots of time with her,” says Claudia.

Adela was referred to Shervin V. Oskouei, MD, a specialist in orthopaedics at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. Dr. Oskouei acknowledged that amputation might be needed, but he was just as determined as Adela was to save her leg and help her walk again.

“With Dr. Oskouei, I could hope. I believe you always have hope, and you can never let it go,” says Adela.

“A positive attitude and fighting spirit is monumental in the healing process, especially when patients have life-threatening and limb-threatening conditions such as trauma or cancer,” says Dr. Oskouei. “I know it is difficult, but it is essential for patients to never give up hope and continue to fight.”

To create the best chance to help Adela’s leg heal, Dr. Oskouei teamed up with an Emory plastic surgeon, Mark Walsh, MD. First, Dr. Oskouei cleaned her bone and transplanted artificial bone tissue to Adela’s fractured tibia to help it heal. To close the open wound on Adela’s leg, Dr. Walsh covered the area with a skin graft.

“My doctors were very professional. I felt I was in good hands,” remembers Adela.

Adela’s procedures at Emory worked. To ward off infection, Adela will take antibiotics for the rest of her life. But the open fracture wound on her leg is finally healing, and she is now able to walk with a cane.

“To see my mom walk is amazing. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have believed it,” says Claudia. “We’re talking about someone who was confined to a wheelchair with the prospect of losing her leg.’”

“It feels good when our hard work and diligence pay off. We’re happy when we can give our patients a better quality of life,” says Dr. Oskouei. “I love what I do.”

Adela is beyond grateful. She feels better every day and even plans to return to her job serving lunch to children in the school cafeteria.

“This operation was a miracle from God. He gave me my life back by leading me to Emory,” says Adela.

Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center

The Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center offers the full spectrum of orthopaedic care. If you have bone, joint or spine injuries, we can help. We want to get you back to living the life you love.

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