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Linda Canfield never thought that her first attempt at playing pickleball would end with a 90-mile ambulance ride to UW Health University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin followed by an orthopedic trauma surgery the next day.
In August 2022, the St. Paul, Minnesota resident, two college friends and their husbands ventured to Galena, Illinois for a summer weekend getaway. On that hot Saturday afternoon, Linda, then 64, decided to give pickleball a try. With paddles in hand, Linda, one friend and her husband began hitting the ball around the court.
“We were almost finished and I remember running laterally across the court,” Linda recalled. “My legs got awkwardly wrapped around each other and in an instant, I fell to the ground. I heard a pop and knew right away that I had broken something and it was probably my hip.”
Unable to move, Linda lay on the court while friends called 911.
“I remember the siren blowing as I was lying there in pain, sweating and swearing to myself,” Linda said. “The court surface was scorching hot. The EMTs were asking lots of questions so they could decide what to do before moving me.”
Eventually, the crew safely moved Linda into the ambulance before taking her to the local hospital. X-rays would show that the break was not a simple one. Linda would need to go to a larger hospital with greater orthopedic expertise. The next closest larger hospital was 15 miles away in Dubuque, Iowa, but it was full.
Husband advocated for UW Health
Linda’s husband, Jim Thornton, who earned his master’s degree at UW–Madison, strongly urged the EMT crew to transport Linda to UW Health in Madison.
“I just felt in my heart that with all of the good surgeons there and Madison being a leading trauma center, UW would be the best place,” Jim recalled.
As Linda’s ambulance departed for Madison, Jim followed behind in his car; they arrived at University Hospital early that evening. Surgery to repair Linda’s bone break took place the following day.
“I remember the orthopedic surgical team preparing me. They all made me feel I was in very capable hands,” Linda said. “They even asked me what kind of music I liked, so after I told them, they put some Carrie Underwood on.”
A native of Rochester, Minnesota, Linda recalled talking to her mother on the phone from her hospital bed in Madison.
“My 90-year-old mother still lives in Rochester and suggested that I come to the Mayo Clinic,” Linda said. “Of course I was in no position at this point to come to Rochester. I told my mom that my UW Health surgeon was named Dr. Paul Whiting and she Googled him.
“After she discovered that Dr. Whiting went to Harvard Medical School, she was satisfied that I was in good hands,” Linda said. “Dr. Whiting got a big laugh out of that story.”
Fracture was just below the hip
While casually described as a broken hip, Linda actually broke the uppermost portion of her left femur, the bone that runs straight from the knee to the hip. Surgeons call her break a subtrochanteric femur fracture.
“Linda was fortunate that the hip joint itself was not broken, so she was able to keep her native hip,” said Dr. Whiting.
“We repaired Linda’s fracture by making an incision and inserting a 15-inch titanium rod inside the hollow part of the femur,” said Dr. Whiting. “We secured the rod, which is about one-half inch thick, with screws above and below the fracture. This provides rotational stability and durability while the fracture heals. Because the rod is placed inside the bone, patients generally don’t experience any hardware irritation.”
Although the natural healing process is not complete until three to six months after surgery, patients with Linda’s type of repair can bear full weight on the leg right away because this type of surgical construct provides such excellent stability. After five nights in the hospital, Linda was discharged to go home.
Grateful for so many caring experts
Linda and Jim appreciated everyone involved in her care, including Dr. Whiting, the orthopedic nurses, physical therapists, and other staff.
“I was so impressed with everyone, from Dr. Whiting, who was so personable, to the fellow who cleaned my room to the person who brought my food tray,” Linda said. “A lot of folks complain about this or that when they’re in the hospital, but I think it’s important to thank all of these kind people who do such a great job.”
Knowing that Linda would prefer to receive follow-up care close to home, Dr. Whiting referred her to a St. Paul-based orthopedic trauma surgeon who had done his residency at UW Health.
“By six months after surgery, I was feeling like my old self,” Linda said. “Last year, we traveled to Hawaii, Texas, Olympic National Park in Washington State and Europe, where I walked up hills and on uneven sidewalks. Some of my companions even had a hard time keeping up with me.”
For Dr. Whiting and his team, people like Linda are exactly why they do what they do.
“With our extensive experience, training and the latest technology, our goal at UW Health is to help our patients get back to doing the things they enjoy, whether it’s playing pickleball, tennis, running, or walking,” said Dr. Whiting. “When we can achieve that, we’ve hit a home run.”