The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but for Ashley Chapman, each step was excruciating. At age 20, the Canadian athlete sprained her ankle while jogging and injured her calcaneocuboid ligament. Because this ligament supports a joint that stabilizes the foot’s cuboid bone, an injury creates a chronically unstable “gliding joint.” It’s often undiagnosed, but the impact is debilitating. Ashley’s injury put her life on hold for four years and transformed her active, happy existence to one of disability and discouragement.
Seeking relief, Ashley saw several orthopaedists, pain specialists, chiropractors and physical therapists. Some provided temporary relief; others said her problem was psychological, not mechanical. Meanwhile, whenever her cuboid bone misaligned, Ashley manually repositioned it herself, only to have it pop out of place again. During one eight-month period, she used a walker, scooter or crutches to get around.
Her lowest point came when an orthopaedist said she might never find a solution to her pain and might not be able to walk again. “I felt very depressed and alone,” Ashley recalls.
Fortunately, Ashley didn’t give up. Through internet research, she found a presentation called “Calcaneocuboid Instability: Frequently Overlooked Cause of Lateral Foot Pain.” Its author was J. Melvin Deese, M.D., a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery in St. Marys, Georgia, over a thousand miles from Ashley’s Toronto home.
“From my first interaction with Dr. Deese, I thought, ‘This is my life-changing chance.’ He was the first glimmer of hope I’d had in years. He was empathetic, honest and knowledgeable. I felt like I’d finally found someone who believed in me,” says Ashley.
Ashley and Dr. Deese communicated via email and phone calls for several months. “Ashley took every possible conservative measure. You couldn’t ask for a better patient, but when she didn’t heal, I had to examine her in person,” Dr. Deese says. After four years of misdiagnoses, her parents were skeptical, but made the drive to Southeast Georgia, where Dr. Deese won them over, as he had Ashley.
A Mystery Solved
All along, Dr. Deese suspected a calcaneocuboid injury, an uncommon injury that occurs below the area of an ankle sprain. According to Dr. Deese, “As orthopaedic surgeons we are taught to examine the joints carefully, but this one is so rarely injured that it is sometimes overlooked. If an ankle sprain doesn’t heal after eight weeks, I examine the ankle below the sprain to isolate tenderness in the joint. Many patients tell me no doctor has ever touched that spot. Next, I inject a small amount of Lidocaine into the joint. If the patient then walks without pain, I know it’s a calcaneocuboid injury.”
That’s what happened with Ashley. The next day, Dr. Deese reconstructed her calcaneocuboid ligament using a donor tendon. The day after surgery, the Chapmans drove back to Canada.
After years of disability, Ashley recovered slowly, but steadily. As she approaches the one year anniversary of her surgery, she’s elated. “I just returned from the Grand Canyon, I’m walking two to three hours a day pain-free, I’m playing basketball and I have a new career. Dr. Deese gave me back my life and my future.”
Wise beyond her years, Ashley offers this advice to anyone struggling with an orthopaedic injury: “Don’t lose hope. There are good doctors out there. I have so much trust in Dr. Deese and Southeast Georgia Health System.”
A strategic affiliate of Southeast Georgia Health System, Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery has offices in Brunswick, St. Simons Island and St. Marys. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 912-466-7340 or visit sghs.org/summit.