Rebecca Chopek faced the prospect of losing her lower leg to amputation after a car accident during which a bone somehow popped out of a gaping wound in her foot. The talus bone connecting the bottom of her tibia and fibula was never found – a bizarre medical mystery that presented doctors with peculiar medical challenge: What to do about the injured foot with the missing bone?
Chopek, 43, of Kresgeville, Monroe County, was flown from the accident scene to an area hospital where the doctor there recommended amputating her leg below the knee.
That’s when she requested a second opinion – from St. Luke’s University Health Network. The doctor she spoke to, St. Luke’s orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon James Lachman, MD, told her that her foot could be saved by implanting an artificial talus bone created through innovative 3D printing technology.
“I’m glad I sought a second opinion and thankful I was sent to Dr. Lachman at St. Luke’s for this amazing surgery,” said Chopek, a former EMT now studying to be a veterinarian technician.
With precision and expertise, Dr. Lachman rebuilt her ankle, inserting a metal, 3D-printed talus into the space of the missing bone. The piece, printed from a reverse-image CT scan of Chopek’s good left ankle, is held in place by her tibia, fibula and heel bone.
With the three bones that make up the ankle joint intact, Chopek is back on her feet. She returned to her active life just months after her 2020 accident in Saylorsburg, Monroe County.
“This is a horrific injury from which the foot sometimes never fully recovers,” said Dr. Lachman, who learned about and authored medical reports about 3D printing during a specialized fellowship training at Duke University. Only a few advanced hospitals nationwide offer the bone-replacement procedure. “This novel implant really helped Rebecca so she can walk again.”
After her surgery, Chopek wore a cast for three weeks to allow the wound to heal, followed by a walking boot. After three weeks, she started with Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s in Kresgeville for range-of-motion work, and by six weeks was bearing weight. At week eight, she was out of the boot and wearing a supportive sneaker.
Said her physical therapist Bob Thourot, PT, “Rebecca had significant loss of function and mobility, which affected her ability to perform her daily activities, but she was extremely motivated to return to normal. She participated well in therapy and was able to regain her functional mobility through increasingly challenging exercises. In the end her Gait pattern dramatically improved, and she returned to work.”
Chopek says she’s “75-80 percent back to normal and hoping for more improvement.” As a vet technician, she knows she will need to be on her feet for long periods of time, and she’s looking forward to it.