Jumping into Retirement with Both Feet Thanks to a New Ankle
Le Claire retiree, Patrick Thornton, 64, had plans following his three-decade career at 3M Corporation. After working and managing plants in Cordova, Ill., and Minnesota for 38 years, retirement was going to be truly golden — spending time with his two daughters and three grandchildren, heading cross country and overseas for travel, and making the annual pilgrimage to Walt Disney World.
“As a family, we’ve been going to Disney World for the past 40 years. It’s one of our favorite family traditions, and I had been really looking forward to taking my grandchildren there as well.”
Disney veterans will tell you that being on your feet all day is par for the parks. “Oh yes, we’ve always started early and stayed late,” laughs Pat. “From rope drop in the early morning, until fireworks late at night, when we do Disney, we can park hop all day and hit all of our favorite rides.” Not being able to walk at Disney or anywhere was just not in Pat’s retirement plan.
Severe Ankle Pain Hindered Pat’s Quality of Life
“I retired in 2019 and a year later, my ankle really began to bother me. It started with a kind of ‘clicking’ in my left ankle in the fall of 2020, and by the holidays, it got so painful, I could barely walk.” A trip to the doctor resulted in some cortisone shots but they weren’t easing the pain completely.
“By the following summer of 2021, the outside of my ankle hurt terribly. It was swollen and I needed to see someone right away. I headed to ORA’s Urgent OrthoCARE after hours and they immediately gave me a boot and referred me to see a foot and ankle specialist. It crossed my mind that my fall trip to Disney was in jeopardy — so much for all of my plans. It was terrible!”
Foot and Ankle Surgeon, Dr. Michael Pyevich, ORA Orthopedics, recalls his first impression after viewing the images of Pat’s ankle. “He had a horrible ankle. He had not just arthritis and deformity, his ankle bone was almost dislocated out of the front of the ankle. It was unstable, terribly painful, and I don’t know how he endured that pain for as long as he had.”
“Dr. Pyevich asked if I was walking, and I said ‘I am hobbling!’ He said it was very degraded and that my shin bone had slid by more than an inch. He told me ankle surgery was inevitable and that the two outcomes would either be an ankle fusion or a total ankle replacement.”
Surgery for Patrick…after a Family Trip to Disney
“Depending on the state of his ligaments,” explains Dr. Pyevich, “the preferred outcome would be to replace the ankle joint completely so that Pat would retain his range of rotation. Fusions require that I fuse the ankle bone to the shin bone, but that results in patients’ losing their range of motion in their ankle.”
With impending surgery, Disney was on the line. “I decided we would go before the surgery and I broke down and got a scooter for the trip.” Pat says it wasn’t ideal, but the best option under the circumstances.
“Yes, there were things I could not do, including marching down Main Street with my grandkids. The scooter slowed us down, but we went, had new experiences, and I came back ready for surgery.”
In October, Pat underwent the surgery and Dr. Pyevich discovered his ligaments were still viable. “His side ligaments were intact, which was really good news. I performed a total ankle replacement by basically replacing the bottom side of his shin bone and the top of his ankle. I took out the bone ravaged by arthritis and inserted high-performing plastic material to ensure he had a full range of motion.”
Pain Free with High Hopes for More Fun with his Grandchildren
Pat says the pain relief was a blessing. “About three days after the surgery, the pain was gone. I didn’t need any pain medication at all. It has been wonderful. Fantastic! Really unbelievable and too good to be true after almost a year of pain! Dr. Pyevich was just great. He really cares and I just knew I’d have a great outcome.”
Four months later, Pat is back, rough-housing with the grandchildren and picking up those plans for retirement. “We love our grandkids. I love chasing them and keeping up with them. I love it when they crawl all over me.
“I’m too young to be old. And my youngest grandchild is now walking and I can walk, too. When I stand on Main Street USA in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, I just feel like it’s home.”
And as the song goes in Disney’s ride called The Carousel of Progress, “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow,” and for Pat, yes, dreams really do come true.