Stephanie Wilkins

Chattanooga, TN

Conditions + Treatments

Medical Icon Ankle Injury/Condition
Medical Icon Broken Ankle
Medical Icon Broken Leg

I'm a climber, I'm a trail runner, I'm a hiker, I'm a mountain biker, I'm a kayaker, I fly fish, etc., I'm a LOVER OF ADVENTURE AND THE OUTDOORS! On March 12, 2015, I fell 25 feet while rock climbing in Chattanooga, TN. I was quickly transported via ambulance to the ER at Erlanger Hospital and as I entered as a Level 2 Trauma, I had severe pain in my left leg/foot/heel, right foot/heel, numbness in back (two of my vertebrae), severe pain in my right and left arms (specifically my elbows), chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

Ultimately, after almost 5 hours of cat scans and examinations most of my injuries were determined to be superficial but not my left leg, I had a Pilon Fracture (I had multiple breaks near the bottom of my leg and at the bend of my foot. I had broken my tibia in two places(lower portion and mid-shaft), broken my fibula and broken my ankle. I had waited to call my family until I knew the extent of my injuries since they were 3 1/2 hours away in Tuscaloosa, AL. The breaks were set and I was told that I would have surgery early the next morning to have an ex fixator put on my left leg to set the breaks until the swelling comes down so that I could have the actual surgery to repair my breaks.

They woke me early the next morning to prep and wheel me into surgery and after a few hours I was wheeled into my hospital room for another night’s stay. When I woke up from surgery my family had arrived and my friends were still there. My orthopedic surgeon came by and recapped the surgery and explained the extent of my injuries and my prognosis. I was told that I would be non-weight bearing for 12 weeks (3 months) and that I would have significant issues with my leg and foot long term.

I immediately knew (from living in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, AL) that I had to find out who the leg/ankle doctor was at the Andrews Sports Medicine. I knew that if I could get in with that doctor that I might have a chance to get back to 100%, to be able to continue doing all of the outdoor, active things that I love to do at the level I love to do them, to be able to get back to who I am! I truly felt that it was my only chance!

I was released from the hospital late in the day on Saturday, March 14 and endured a 3 1/2 hour drive home to Tuscaloosa with my family so that they could care for me for the coming weeks. So the work began, my sister started making some calls and I laid flat on my back virtually 24-7 with my left leg elevated in hopes that the swelling would go down as soon as possible so that I could have the surgery to repair the breaks. The ex-fixator looked like some sort of a sci-fi contraption and certainly wasn't pretty nor comfortable. I had screws and rods sticking in and outside of my left leg and my pain was significant.

Late in the day on Monday, March 16, Tina from Dr. Norman Waldrop’s office called and asked if I could get to their office the next day at 3 p.m. WE SAID YES!! My family loaded me up the next day and off to Birmingham we went but I had to get my medical record and x-rays/cat scans, etc. from Erlanger in Chattanooga to Dr. Waldrop’s office before my appointment. Thankfully, I was able to send written consent for my records and scans to be picked up by a friend via email and a dear friend picked them up and drove them to Birmingham to meet me for my appointment.

I saw Dr. Waldrop that afternoon and luckily he graciously agreed to take my case. He was honest and direct about the extent of my injuries and recovery but he promised me that he would get me back to the things that I loved. His recovery was a bit more aggressive that what I had been told and I knew that it would take a while (I was going to be at least 8-10 weeks non-weight bearing), then the real work would begin, there was the possibility that it may take other surgeries but if I did my part that he would do his. I was SO excited that he was willing to take me on!!! Ileft his office knowing that it might be a long time but I knew I would be back! Dr. Waldrop wasn’t sure if my leg/foot would be ready for surgery by that Friday, March 20, due to swelling but if I wanted to take the chance to drive up and see that I could.

Well, I went back to Tuscaloosa with my leg elevated and with ice on it and that is the way I stayed 24-7 until Friday morning. When he saw my leg/foot on Friday morning, he said that the swelling was down enough and said, “LET’S DO IT!” I was ecstatic, NO MORE EX-FIXATOR!! He put in a plate and screws to repair my tibia break and was amazed at my ankle (Talus), I had not broken it, I had blown a hole in it from the impact! There was literally a hole in the back corner of my Talus, Dr. Waldrop and his team pulled out over 50 pieces of shattered bone from my ankle. I was discharged and the healing began.

I went back in two weeks for a re-check and my first cast was put on, 2 weeks later I returned for x-rays and cast #2 was put on. Two weeks later I returned for x-rays and possible cast removal and I was put in my boot but still no weight bearing. Two weeks later I began adding weight back to my left foot with my walker/crutches and that was a challenge to say the least. I went back and forth with the amount of weight on that leg for a number of weeks and then once I transferred 100% with no crutches it felt quite weird.

I started massage therapy and physical therapy but I was limited to exercises and the pool. I had to learn to walk again on that leg/foot. I had suffered some nerve damage to my big toe which caused some additional issues and there were a couple of weeks that I had to go back onto the crutches due to tibia pain but finally after about 9 ½ weeks I was walking again without assistance in my boot. OH HAPPY DAY!!

I had a follow up with Dr. Waldrop and then the REAL work began, he was very specific on what I could and could not do. I was amazed at how stiff my leg/ankle was, I was amazed at the lack of mobility of my leg and foot, I was amazed at the muscle atrophy/weakness, I was amazed at how my body felt, the pain in my leg/ankle, the pain in my back due to the compensation of the height difference of the boot and lack of dorsiflexion in my left foot. I knew I had a long road to hoe but I was READY TO WORK AND I WAS ABLE TO WORK! It took several months to get back to weight bearing exercises, but the follow up visits started at 1 month then to two months, then 3 months, etc., and at each visit I was able to add a little something back based on my progress.

I am now up to re-checks every 6 months and I am back rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and ever so slightly starting to run again (still limited). I was told that my recovery may take a year to a year and a half. Well I’m not at 100% quite yet (100% to me is being able to do everything at the level I was before my accident with no pain) but I am close! My injuries were extensive enough that 100% might not have been feasible/realistic so to know that I can be 100% again and that I can be back to the way I was before my accident truly is the greatest gift of all!

I have Dr. Waldrop, his amazing team (Tina and Katie especially), my physical therapist, my massage therapist, and my wonderful family and friends to thank for that and I suppose the willingness to be compliant, work hard, listen to your body, a little bit of stubbornness and a no quit attitude! Thank you truly isn’t enough for Dr. Waldrop and his amazing team!! They gave me my life back! I will celebrate my one year anniversary of my climbing accident on March 12, 2016 and I’ll do it in my true fashion, surfing outside of Cabo! :) :)

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Norman E. Waldrop, III, MD
Norman E. Waldrop, III, MD View Bio