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Bouncing Back

Hampton Lacrosse Player Recovers from Serious Leg Fracture with Help from Orthopaedic & Rehabilitation Institute

Mike Fiehrer stepped out of the crease of his goal and braced himself for impact with the rushing attackman. The other team was charging toward the net on a breakaway and Mike was the last line of defense for his team. This play called for an aggressive counterattack, even if it meant the risk of taking a hard hit. Mike didn’t want to let his teammates down on this play.
As a junior goalie for the Hampton High School lacrosse team, Mike had experienced quite a few high-speed collisions before. Aside from minor bumps and bruises, he never was seriously injured. But as the attackman’s knee slammed into Mike’s lower leg on this play, he knew something was terribly wrong.
“I crumpled to the ground and couldn’t move,” Mike recalls of that fateful spring evening on April 12, 2011. “The pain didn’t come until later that night but I knew my leg was broken. A lot of thoughts raced through my mind. Would I be able to finish this season? Would I even be able to play lacrosse next year?”
Mike was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital, where X-rays confirmed his worst fears. Both his tibia and fibula were broken. The ER doctor told Mike his injury was so serious that he needed to see an orthopaedic specialist immediately. The Fiehrer family decided to see Alan Klein, MD—a noted surgeon at West Penn Allegheny Health System’s Orthopaedic & Rehabilitation Institute.
“My husband and I were very concerned about Mike, but as soon as we walked into Dr. Klein’s waiting room, we knew Mike was in good hands,” said Michelle Fiehrer, the mother of Mike. “Other patients told us that Dr. Klein was a great doctor. And Dr. Klein immediately made us feel comfortable and reassured. He treated Mike with compassion and sensitivity.”
Dr. Klein told Mike that a broken lower leg presents patients with a number of challenges. “A double leg fracture can sometimes be difficult to heal,” said Dr. Klein. “The fracture needs to heal perfectly straight; otherwise, the patient can be at risk for developing arthritis. Also, if the bone heals in a crooked position, the patient can potentially develop back problems.”
Mike had several treatment options for fixing his broken leg. He could have surgery (intramedullary rodding) or casting. “Mike was a high-level athlete, so the fracture had to heal perfectly,” said Dr. Klein. “Surgery sometimes offers the fastest recovery, but it may not always be the safest option. We could also put a metal rod into Mike’s bone; that helps ensure that the fracture lines up perfectly. But that procedure, too, has risks. We decided to put Mike’s leg into a cast and closely follow the healing process with regular X-rays.”
For the next eight weeks, Mike had to wear a cast that extended from his thigh to his toes. During this time, Mike had to avoid putting weight on the cast. That made it difficult for him to perform many normal activities of daily living.
“It was a difficult period of my life,” Mike remembers of the time he spent with a cast. “But thanks to my family, I was able to get around and keep active.”
When the cast was finally removed, Mike was ready to rehab his leg. “I couldn’t believe how much the muscles in my leg atrophied,” he said. “I knew I would have to work hard at rehabilitation to get my strength and size back.”
According to Dr. Klein, Mike could not have asked for a better recovery. “Bone is a unique tissue,” he explained. “When a broken bone heals, the body puts an extra layer of bone around the site of the fracture. In Mike’s case, his tibia and fibula became even stronger.”
The following spring, Mike returned to action as the starting goalie for the Hampton High School lacrosse team. He played so well that his team won the WPIAL conference championship. Mike also was awarded an all-section honor, which designated him as the best goalie in his lacrosse section.
“I am very grateful to Dr. Klein and all his staff at West Penn Allegheny Health System,” said Mike, who will start college this fall at the University of Dayton. “They made it possible for me to return to the game I love.”