A Saskatchewan amputee wants to raise awareness about a procedure he says has greatly improved his quality of life.
Ron Patterson is now the first person in Saskatchewan to have had osseointegration limb replacement performed on his amputated leg, but he’s hoping that will quickly change.
Osseointegration limb replacement involves fusing the bone to a metallic implant.
Ron broke his ankle in 1978, months after marrying his wife, Shelly.
“I used to drive an earthmover, heavy equipment for building roads and I slipped on some frost on the ladder and went down and landed on a rock,” Ron said.
Ron’s ankle was put in a cast and later operated on and put back in a cast. He says a window wasn’t cut into the cast, so it couldn’t be cleaned. The wound bled and later become infected.
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Ron was given two choices; take drugs for the rest of his life that would cause him to lose his driver’s license, or lose part of his leg.
He decided to let doctors amputate his leg in 1984.
Ron wore a socket prosthesis for over 30 years. He said for about 20 years, the socket worked well for him, but then he developed sores around the stump, along with a reliance on prescription drugs.
“I was on morphine and it just got to the point, my body got used to morphine, so they put me on fentanyl and it was starting to get to the point my body was used to fentanyl and it wasn’t working as it was when it first started,” Ron explained.
He also developed neuroma, which Ron said was painful when he put pressure on it.
The pain got so bad Ron had to sell his cattle.
This is when Ron started looking into other options, including osseointegration limb replacement.
He was referred to a doctor In Alberta who had good and bad news for him.
“The bad news was that they were only going to do people from Alberta,” Ron said.
Ron was then referred to a surgeon in Montreal.
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Dr. Robert Turcotte is an orthopedic surgeon at McGill Health Centre specializing in musculoskeletal cancer and osseointegration.
“By having this piece of metal anchored into the bone, sticking out through the skin, we allow the amputee to directly connect to the prosthesis through the metal implant, thus avoiding the discomfort and limitations of the socket prosthesis,” Turcotte explained.
The surgery is ideal for amputees who have experienced pain and discomfort when wearing a socket.
Turcotte said in the warmer months, stumps can become hot and wet from sweat, causing the socket to swivel, which makes walking difficult.
Socket prosthetics also take five to 10 minutes to put on, especially for mid-thigh amputees.
The osseointegration prosthetic takes 10 seconds to click on.
Turcotte says this is especially helpful for bi-lateral amputees.
Turcotte said the program in Montreal has the ability to perform 50 osseointegration surgeries a year, but COVID-19 has impacted how many patients they can operate on. He estimates there are 10 to 15 patients currently on the waitlist for the procedure.
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The surgery and prosthesis are also costly, Turcotte said.
At the moment, Quebec covers the surgery under its health-care system. Turcotte’s office needs to be granted permission to perform the surgery on Ontario residents from that province’s health-care system.
Ron had his surgery covered by a workers compensation fund from the government of Saskatchewan, although he said it took around five years for the province to finally give the green light on their end in order for him to be able to get the operation.
Turcotte explained that some provinces are reluctant to cover the surgery because they believe it to be experimental.
“It is not anymore. We know a bit about the complication and the short and mid-term result. For most of our patients, this is a life changer. It gives them a degree of liberty, of freedom, of the ability to wear their prosthesis all day long,” Turcotte said.
About 30 osseointegration surgeries have been performed in Montreal so far. The first procedure was completed three years ago. Turcotte added that demand is low for the operation.
“We don’t have hundreds of amputees waiting for the surgery.”
Turcotte said the surgery is more common for lower limb amputees but mid-arm amputees have also had osseointegration completed successfully.
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There are limitations on who can get the surgery, too. Patients need to be of normal body weight, not smoke, or have significant health conditions.
After going through with the procedure in November 2020, Ron said he’s sharing his story so other amputees can now about the procedure and decide if it’s something they want to pursue.
“I can pretty well do anything I could before with my leg,” Ron said.
“It’s like having your own leg again.”
He added he could even go back into raising cattle if he was younger.
Both Ron and his wife said although he missed out on playing several sports with their three sons when they were younger, however, they’re grateful he’ll at least be able to do more with his grandchildren now.
“I feel like a million dollars. I do. It’s just my quality of life is back and everybody that sees me and talks to me, the new me (versus) before and the drugs I was living on, they just said I look a lot better (and) I seem a lot healthier.”
Ron also said he’s happy to be drug free now and not have to take strong prescription medication like fentanyl or morphine.
“I can walk and do just as much as anybody else in the world.”
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Ron called the day he had the operation “the best day of my life” and he hopes the surgery can become more available to other amputees.
He wishes he could have gotten it done 30 years earlier.
Ron said he’s more than willing to speak to anyone who wishes to reach out to him with questions about the procedure and his personal experience with it. He said he just want to helps others reach a more comfortable lifestyle as amputees with the possibilities that are out there.
Shelly is just as glad Ron had the procedure, saying he wasn’t the easiest person to live with earlier.
“He was really irritable and probably a lot of that was also due to the pain, but also because of the drugs. I know because he’s a totally different person since he’s off of (drugs),” Shelly said.
Shelly agrees with Ron that if an amputee qualifies for the surgery, they should look into it.
“I just wish it would have happened a long, long time ago. But that’s life,” Shelly said.
– with files from Taz Dhaliwal
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