Elizabeth, New Jersey, Truck Driver Back Behind the Wheel After Broken Foot

August 5, 2021

The sun beamed brightly, perfect weather for a socially distant barbeque in June 2020. But when Anibal Ospina, 44, from Elizabeth, New Jersey, got up to help cook, things turned dark. A motorcycle accident years before had left his left leg permanently weakened, so when he miscalculated the first step off the deck, the leg couldn’t take his weight.

“I fell, and I fell hard,” he says. “Everyone saw my right foot, and we all knew it wasn’t good. I stayed put, and my friends called an ambulance.”

Paramedics took Anibal to Raritan Bay Medical Center, where orthopedic surgeon Cris Beiro, M.D.,was on duty. Anibal’s fibula was broken in several places, making his whole ankle joint unstable. Dr. Beiro quickly immobilized the dislocated ankle with a splint. Because of the severity of the injury, he knew right away that Anibal would need surgery.

A Lot on the Line

That made Anibal nervous. With diminished strength already in his left leg, a right foot injury could leave him permanently disabled. And, as a truck driver, Anibal’s right foot means everything.

Dr. Beiro eased his mind. “Dr. Beiro gave me a lot of tranquility,” Anibal says. “The way he listened to all my concerns, then reassured me that everything would be OK, really made me feel better. He told me not to worry, and he promised to take care of me. He definitely did that.”

The next day, Dr. Beiro scrubbed in to fix Anibal’s shattered ankle. Dr. Beiro knew the impact of Anibal’s driving foot. “I needed to make it as close to normal as possible,” he says.

He put plates and screws along the fractured fragments of the fibula to help stabilize the ankle. Then he used a new technique called suspensory fixation to bring the bones together, which can provide better alignment of the bone.

Five days after surgery, Anibal left the hospital in a wheelchair, and by mid-July, Dr. Beiro gave the green light to start physical therapy. Because Anibal was still unable to put any weight on his right leg, he had to depend on his wife to drive him to and from physical therapy. This could have posed a problem, as her workday began at 9 a.m.—but not for the rehabilitation experts at The Human Motion Institute at Raritan Bay. “They were so accommodating, telling me I could come in at 7 a.m.,” Anibal says.

Anibal’s therapist began with massage to get the blood flowing, increase mobility and decrease inflammation. Anibal was nervous. “I kept asking her, ‘Is this going to work?’ And she assured me that I would be able to put weight on the foot again,” he says.

As time passed, Anibal’s therapist used various techniques to help him strengthen his muscles. She also gave him homework. “She gave me resistance bands and instructions on how to exercise at home. I started with very light resistance, then I worked my way up to harder and harder bands,” he says.

Motivation to Recover

“Anibal was a very motivated patient,” says Dr. Beiro. In fact, sometimes Anibal worked so hard that after the 15-minute drive home from physical therapy, he didn’t know if he had the strength to walk from the driveway to the house.

“My therapist told me that was a good thing—I worked hard! She told me that eventually that would change,” he says.

And change it did. Anibal progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, then finally, to walking on his own. Before his injury, he did not believe physical therapy could make such a difference. Now he sees how it changed his life.

He’s back to work, and his foot is better than ever. He credits the team at Raritan Bay and is forever grateful. “Every single person, from the valet parker at the front of the hospital, to the nurses, to the security guards, took such good care of me,” he says. “Honestly, sometimes I just sit back and think, ‘Who are these wonderful people who care so much?’”

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