At 57, Barbara DiMarcantonio of Martins Creek knew enough to wear wrist guards when on New Year’s Eve a year ago she went to the roller rink with her granddaughter. But her skate hit something sticky or slippery on the floor, and instead of falling on her arms, her legs splayed apart.
“It sounds pretty benign,” said orthopedic surgeon Nicholas Avallone, MD, of St. Luke’s Orthopedic Care. “But she fell the wrong way and suffered a debilitating injury” – a rare avulsion of the hamstring, a complete tear of the hamstring tendon from the pelvic bone.
Dr. Avallone sent DiMarcantonio for an emergency MRI. It was her first step toward recovery under the extraordinary care of a coordinated team of diverse St. Luke’s experts.
“Dr. Avallone told me that if it comes back as a large tear, I would be on the operating table the next day, or I’d be in big trouble,” she recalled. “He said to tell my husband I would be non-weight bearing for two months. I nearly fainted.”
Barbara used to be the clinical coordinator for the operating room at the former Warren Hospital, and when she arrived at St. Luke’s Warren Campus for her surgery, her old O.R. team including Joanne Muentz and Peggy Carr, was handling her case.
“I was never so happy to see someone in my whole life,” she said.
Dr. Avallone repaired the tear by perfectly placing three surgical anchors to attach the tendon back to the pelvis.
“I know I have perfectly placed surgical anchors,” Barbara said. “I’m really grateful for Dr. Avallone’s skill. If he wasn’t here, I’m sure I would not have had the same results.”
But Barbara’s battle to recover was just beginning. The only real pain was from the incision area below her butt cheek, and she found ibuprofen and ice to be the best remedy.
“My orders were to sit there and let my muscle atrophy,” she said. “By the time I showed up to physical therapy, it was so weak I couldn’t really do anything.”
For the next two months, her lower body basically shrank due to atrophy as the surgical repair continued to heal. Her husband Joe and son Drew took care of her, with Joe helping dress her and get her in and out of the shower.
When the surgery was sufficiently healed, she started the rehabilitation process with Christian Plunkett, DPT, of Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s , Hillcrest location.
“I was so excited to go to physical therapy,” she says, but the initial therapy started with soft tissue massage for more than a month before moving on to weight bearing and range of motion exercises like standing and lifting her heel to her butt.
“Christian was slow and methodical, and we didn’t work past pain,” she said.
“I just remember how positive she was,” Dr. Plunkett said. “I think a lot of people like to come here, but she was here early and was excited about getting better. If I saw her on my daily schedule, I was excited, too.
“We started with just very gentle, easy bridges and leg lifts, and then by the end, she was doing deadlifts, lunges and squats. There really wasn’t’ anything she wasn’t doing. It was almost like the injury never happened.”
Her recovery was rapid, and in August, she began working with Fran Brown of St. Luke’s Fitness & Sports Performance at Hillcrest Plaza in Phillipsburg.
“Christian referred her, so the first thing I did was contact him to see if she had any restrictions,” Brown said.
After a full assessment that included health history, past injuries and her goals, Brown did a fitness assessment and wrote an exercise program that addressed her hamstring recovery with single-leg exercises, but also created a balanced program that included improving her core and upper body strength.
She recently began her three-month reassessment program. “It’s killer,” she said.
“I’m really grateful for my family and the care I received from everyone at St. Luke’s,” she said. “I’m hoping to never need this type of care again. I’ a nurse, a caregiver, a mom, a grandmother.
“You never want to be the one to have someone take care of you. But I am so grateful to Dr. Avallone, the O.R. team, Christian, Fran and so many at St. Luke’s who took the time to care for me.”