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Sanchez is back on her feet

Posted: June 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Jennifer Sanchez had her final surgery in May to repair damage to her left foot and leg as the result of a 2002 accident.

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When Jennifer Sanchez started looking for a doctor who could help her, a few told her to just give up the search.

No one would tackle such a complex problem as her left foot and leg, they said, which was two sizes smaller and an inch shorter than the right foot — the result of a car accident when she was 28.

“There’s got to be something I can do to make this easier and less painful,” thought Sanchez, who was born and raised in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Finally, she found the answer: A limb lengthening procedure that would bring her leg and foot back to its original height.

Now, after a year of surgeries, Sanchez, 38, can leave her wheelchair at home.

She even walked down the aisle in her commitment ceremony to her life partner.

“I’ve been in the process of healing for 10 years,” she said. “I’m in a much better place. I have more respect for everything that I do.”

 

The accident

Sanchez was always athletic and on the move, even spending a year in England when an opportunity arose.

But her career and future plans came to a halt in 2002 when she was a passenger in a truck that was hit on Sierra Highway by a car trying to pass in a narrow stretch of road.

She was airlifted to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where, among other injuries, the doctors found that a femur bone had gone through her pelvic bone and the talus bone in her left ankle was completely crushed.

Sanchez immediately had hip surgery but the talus bone was completely destroyed.

 

Never going to walk

“The doctors were telling me, ‘You’re not going to walk; this bone is not going to come back,’” Sanchez said.

In the end, they removed the talus bone completely and fused the ankle and lower leg to her heel.

Sanchez was confined to a wheelchair until she was 30, when she slowly began to walk with the help of an orthopedic boot.

However, the fusion had left her with feet of different heights, and for years, she struggled to walk normally. That, coupled with her hip, was creating spinal issues and she began to develop arthritis.

“I started walking just completely uneven,” she said. “It was really painful to walk.”

 

A solution

In 2010, Sanchez started looking for surgical options that could relieve the pain and perhaps rehabilitate her left foot.

She checked with four doctors, who “passed me up every time because it’s ‘too complex’” of a procedure.

“They didn’t think that I would have the ability to go through all that,” Sanchez said.

Then in March 2011 she met Dr. Ali Khosroabadi, a foot and ankle specialist based in Arcadia, who believed she was eligible for a limb lengthening procedure to lengthen her left foot an inch.

“I had never heard of these types of treatments where you could actually lengthen your limbs,” Sanchez said.

 

External fixator

Just a month later, Khosroabadi installed an external fixator on Sanchez.

It is a device that was attached to her foot bone with the use of pins.

This lengthened her foot one millimeter each day with the help of a service worker who would come to her home to tighten the device.

“We’d go through this whole ordeal of pain and determination,” Sanchez said. “It was torture.”

The external fixator cage stayed on until late August.

Eventually, Sanchez was able to start walking again and immediately noticed a difference in how she walked.

“I didn’t have to limp like I did before,” she said. “It took a lot of strain off my right hip.”

 

Back on her feet

When Sanchez looks at pictures of the car accident, she can’t believe she came out of it alive, let alone walking again.

“The fact that I made it at all is a miracle,” she said.

One specific miracle for Sanchez was her ability to walk down the aisle this March in her commitment ceremony to her significant other.

 

Final surgery

The final surgery required was to fix Sanchez’ toes, as the pinky and middle toes were bent downward, with the middle toe completely under the index toe. Sanchez had this operation in May of this year, just over a year after the initial procedure.

“I was lying on the table and I was like, ‘Is this really the last one?’” Sanchez said.

Now, Sanchez intends to go back to school to get a degree in English and in the future write a book about her experience.

“You never realize how much you take your feet for granted, even when you just take a walk to the store or down the street” she said. “Now I don’t take anything for granted.”

To learn more about the pioneering limb lengthening practice, visit www.fixmyfoot.com. 

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