Top: Mr. Fleer with his wife, Marianne, and three of his four children.Middle Left to Right: Mr. Fleer’s leg with the tibial nail, covered by a skin graft; Mr. Fleer returns to the basketball courts.Bottom: AAOS President David D. Teuscher, MD; Mr. Fleer; and Hour Detroit writer Garry Gilbert at the MORE Awards.

AAOS Now

Published 7/1/2015
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Alan S. Hilibrand, MD

The Power of a Patient Success Story

There were few dry eyes during the annual AAOS Media Orthopaedic Reporting Excellence (MORE) Awards ceremony on April 30, 2015, when Luke Fleer shared the story of a horrific car crash that nearly took his life 11 years ago and the subsequent years of surgery and rehabilitation—under the diligent care of a Michigan orthopaedic surgeon—that eventually allowed him to walk and run again.

Mr. Fleer spoke to more than 300 orthopaedic surgeons and journalists attending the ceremony, which was held during the National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference at the JW Marriot in Washington, D.C. The MORE Awards are given each year to journalists who demonstrate excellence by accurately reporting on orthopaedics while fostering public awareness of musculoskeletal health issues.

Among the 2015 honorees was Garry Gilbert who wrote the article “Tragedy and Triumph” about Mr. Fleer’s journey in Hour Detroit magazine. Mr. Gilbert was one of 24 honorees recognized during the ceremony.

From “typical night” to a nightmare
On Feb. 4, 2004, Mr. Fleer was a 23-year-old basketball player at Rochester College, “in the best shape of my life.” But what began as a “typical night” turned into a nightmare when his car was struck head-on by a driver going the wrong way. Both cars were traveling at more than 60 miles per hour.

Mr. Fleer recalled the Jaws of Life pulling him from his “twisted and crunched” vehicle, the helicopter ride, and the “faces looking down at me on the operating table” at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. He also remembered the voice and words of his orthopaedic surgeon Patrick J. Wiater, MD, who helped save Mr. Fleer’s crushed left leg.

His injuries included a pelvic injury, a broken fibula, a multiple-ligament injury to his left knee, degloving injuries, and tissue loss. Five surgeries, including a knee replacement and the insertion of a tibial nail, were necessary. Rehabilitation took 2 years.

“There were struggles emotionally and physically, setbacks and frustrating times of pain medicine side effects, limited mobility and the pain that accompanies learning how to walk again. But I also remember the triumphs,” said Mr. Fleer. One of those triumphs took place when he “helped Dr. Wiater unscrew the bolts drilled deep into my hips. My modes of transportation shifted that day from a stretcher, to a wheelchair and walker, to a cane.”

With great emotion, Mr. Fleer, now a 34-year-old father of four, told the audience: “Orthopaedic surgeons like you have a compassionate awareness. You serve individuals at the raw, at the most vulnerable, most horrifying, and most body damaging moments of their life. Every day you witness this trauma and step forward into it.” Not only do orthopaedic surgeons “put our broken bodies back together,” he continued, “your focus and intensity allows patients like me the opportunity to choose how we will handle this adversity.”

Top: Mr. Fleer with his wife, Marianne, and three of his four children.Middle Left to Right: Mr. Fleer’s leg with the tibial nail, covered by a skin graft; Mr. Fleer returns to the basketball courts.Bottom: AAOS President David D. Teuscher, MD; Mr. Fleer; and Hour Detroit writer Garry Gilbert at the MORE Awards.

This poignant story about terrible tragedy and pain, followed by recovery and triumph, reminded all of us there that evening why we chose to become orthopaedic surgeons. Countless news stories highlight the latest research and data on orthopaedic trends, treatments, and techniques. But it’s the individual story of a patient who overcomes a traumatic injury or condition that threatened his or her mobility or life quality that resonates with and inspires other patients.

Sharing patient stories
Every orthopaedic surgeon has patient success stories, and there are many ways to share them.

First, Luke Fleer’s story, along with hundreds of others, can be found at ANationinMotion.org, the Academy’s website featuring patient stories and expert bone and joint health information. Please encourage your patients to submit their stories to inspire and aid other patients who may be facing similar challenges.

If a patient is uncomfortable with completing the online form—or is unable to do so—but is still interested in sharing a story, or if you would like A Nation in Motion® information cards for your office, please contact the AAOS public relations department at media@aaos.org

Your local newspaper, radio station, or television outlet also may be interested in one of these stories, especially if the patient overcame a significant or unique injury or condition or recovered with a new surgical treatment or technique.

Share any news stories that highlight orthopaedic techniques, patient stories, or the value of orthopaedic care with the public relations department or encourage the writer or producer to apply for a MORE Award. More information on the MORE Awards is available at www.aaos.org/moreawards

“Life is not about what happens to you; rather, it is about what you do with what happens to you,” Mr. Fleer said at the 2015 MORE Awards. We are grateful to him, and all patients who are willing to share their stories, inspiring other traumatic injury patients (as well as their doctors) to keep fighting for mobility and second chances.

Alan S. Hilibrand, MD, chairs the AAOS Communications Cabinet.