Back on Her Feet After Ankle Surgery

December 16, 2020

On Friday, March 27, 2020, Kori Sheridan Potenzone fell down a flight of stairs and broke her ankle. She was nervous to seek medical care—she had COVID-19 on her mind.

“I was actually on the phone with my aunt at the time,” recalls Kori, 35, of Bloomfield, New Jersey, recalls. “We suspected my mom had COVID-19, and we were talking about how concerned we were when I lost my footing and fell down the basement stairs.”

Even though the pain Kori experienced after her fall was excruciating, she didn’t seek medical attention right away. “I can’t even describe how bad the pain was,” she says. “But I was scared to go to the hospital. I was afraid to get sick from the virus, because cases in New Jersey were surging at that time.”

As the practice manager for an orthopedic spine surgeon in Englewood, Kori managed to wait out the weekend before being examined at her office on Monday. After an initial evaluation, it was clear she needed to see an orthopedic trauma surgeon. She was referred to Julie Keller, M.D., director of Orthopedic Trauma at Hackensack University Medical Center.

“From the time I met Kori, I could see that she was a force of nature,” Dr. Keller says. “She is smart, determined, incredibly tough and proactive. She wants to do her best at everything, and that helped her recover from this major injury.”

A Safe Space

Upon examination, Dr. Keller determined that Kori had two broken bones and a partially dislocated ankle, which required surgery. “We took extraordinary measures—like repurposing our pediatric building to treat adult non-COVID-19 patients—that reassured Kori that it was safe for her to come to the hospital,” explains Dr. Keller.

As an orthopedic trauma surgeon, Dr. Keller says most of her patients see her during some of the worst times of their lives. “They’re scared and don’t know what to expect. So I treat them like how I would want my family to be treated,” she says. “Every person deserves to understand their injury, treatment and outcomes, and get the best care you can provide them.”

Road to Recovery

After surgery, Kori was in a soft cast for about two weeks before transitioning to a hard cast for another six weeks. When she was finally cast-free in late May, she did not have the option to attend outpatient therapy because of state pandemic restrictions. But Kori was determined to get back on her feet, so she followed the home exercise program she was given and had frequent follow-up telephone and video visits with her care team.

“I took baby steps,” Kori says. “It was tough, especially the first two weeks, but I pushed myself because I knew that I didn’t have any other options. If I wanted to get better and resume my normal activities and be present for my sister’s wedding, I couldn’t let anything stand in my way.”

That determined mindset brought her back to work just a few days after her cast was removed. “It took me quite a bit of time to get across the parking lot, but I did it,” says Kori.

Another “normal” activity she eagerly returned to was playing with and going on walks with her German Shephard, Rocky. And when the time came to walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid for her younger sister’s wedding, Kori was basically pain-free. By then, her mom had fully recovered from her illness, as well. “We recovered as a family, and we hope to put it far behind us,” she says.

“No one wants to fall, break their ankle or go to the hospital. I’d never wish this experience on anyone else,” Kori says. “But if anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation, I’d always recommend Dr. Keller and the team at Hackensack University Medical Center.”

Kori appreciated Dr. Keller’s compassionate, personal approach to care. “She dropped everything and made me feel like I was the only person in the world that mattered,” she says. “She even called me from her personal cell phone after surgery to check in.”

Kori appreciated the nursing staff, as well. “When something like this happens, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you just want your mom to be there—and obviously mine wasn’t able to be there for me given the circumstances,” she says. “The nurses who cared for me were so attentive and went above and beyond. One never even left my side.”

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