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Christine Ahearn

Christine was shocked to learn that her leg was broken in eight places after suffering a fall at church. She turned to the orthopedic surgery team at St. Mark's Hospital for help.

July 07, 2023
Christine Ahearn and her partner smile while standing outside on a fall day.

Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital: Where expert providers have solutions and hope for healing

With a single step, Christine Ahearn’s life changed dramatically.

Christine was facilitating a project with children at church, helping them design a fresh flower Mother’s Day bouquet. As she made her way to the back of the room, Christine saw a teenage helper kneeling beside a table with her legs straight out behind her. Christine stepped over the teenage girl’s legs right as the teen crossed them, creating a bear-like trap. Mid-step, Christine’s foot got trapped, and down she went. The entire blow went through the left knee. “Going down was my only option.”

Once on the ground, Christine’s leg stuck out at an abnormal 45-degree angle. She instantly knew she was in trouble but didn’t realize how severe the injury was. In the first of many “tender miracles,” Christine said she somehow remained calm, and the pain levels stayed manageable as leaders escorted the children out of the room.

When the paramedics arrived and assessed Christine’s leg, they decided to use medication to render her unconscious for about five minutes as they repositioned Christine on a stretcher. When she awoke, the pain hit with excruciating force.

“That’s when I fell apart. The pain was more than I could handle. It was a miracle that the small children didn’t see me out of control,” Christine said.

St. Mark’s Hospital: Expert surgeons provide hope for healing

The ambulance took Christine to the nearest local hospital, where an X-ray revealed that Christine’s femur had broken in about eight places. The ER doctor told Christine she needed an expert surgeon to perform extensive surgery, and even then, with such a shattered leg, she may not be able to walk again.

Christine requested care at St. Mark’s Hospital. She had already experienced compassionate, quality medical care at St. Mark’s during two critical times in her life — when she battled cancer and when she needed emergency care due to a side effect of cancer — so St. Mark’s was her first choice.

“Thankfully, Dr. Brant Nikolaus was on-call at St. Mark’s Hospital that Mother’s Day,” Christine said. “The ER doctor had called a few surgeons who said my case was out of their scope of expertise. Dr. Nikolaus said he could handle it with confidence. That was the second tender miracle. Now I had a qualified doctor who believed he could render me the care I would need to get better and walk again.”

Dr. Brant Nikolaus, a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic surgeon who works at Salt Lake Orthopaedics Clinic, specializes in advanced reconstruction. With detailed attention and care, he rebuilt Christine’s femur using one rod, five metal plates, and 37 screws.

“I have my own hardware store,” Christine joked. “Dr. Nikolaus is the best doctor, bar none. He has such an incredible bedside manner. We were so grateful we got a doctor with confidence and capability. That goes for the team, too — especially the CNAs. The CNAs at St. Mark’s Hospital were my lifeline during the night and day. They were so kind and helpful as I was going through something horrible. I truly had a personal relationship with them. The whole St. Mark’s Hospital experience was near perfect.”

Waiting for walking: When recovery takes time and dedicated specialized teams

The orthopedic team at St. Mark’s fitted Christine with a special brace to stabilize her leg, as she wouldn’t be able to put weight on it or bend it for six to eight months. From St. Mark’s, Christine transferred to a rehabilitation center. She stayed there for eight weeks before returning to her home, where she’d continue a heavy regimen of occupational and physical therapy.

Though Christine had looked forward to returning home, it took significant adjustments as well.

“We had a lot to do to make our home function for a wheelchair. “How do you roll into a shower with a leg that is completely outstretched, and you can’t bend?” Christine asked. “But here’s another little miracle. My nephew’s friend, who is a plumber, heard about my accident and volunteered to build a shower in my garage to accommodate my wheelchair until our master bathroom could be remodeled for a wheelchair. That was a very generous and kind gift.”

For approximately seven months, Christine dedicated herself to at-home therapy before ever starting to put weight on her leg. Then the process of re-learning to walk began. Throughout it all, Christine said she gleaned from the positivity and personalized medical care provided to her.

I spent much time at Dr. Nikolaus’ office during my recovery. Every time we would call the office with a question or a problem to solve, we’d have a resolution within hours,” Christine said. “Dr. Nikolaus and his medical assistant Cheyanne are incredible. Whenever we went to visit, Dr. Nikolaus was so optimistic. He was my biggest supporter. He’d say things looked good, but we just needed more time. More time for the leg to heal. He truly believed I would walk again. I gained confidence from him and Cheyanne to continue the course.

Celebrating successful steps toward healing

With time, Christine’s leg recovered enough that she could begin using a walker; and every couple of weeks, therapists taught her how to put a little more weight on it. After several more months, Christine graduated to a cane.

“It probably took a good 15 months of recovery before I felt comfortable walking with my cane, and even now, I have limitations. I avoid the uneven ground, and my leg gets tired, but I can walk without assistance, and I have a great quality of life,” Christine said. “The process has taught me to be more aware of the tender mercies in medical care.”

Based on her hope-filled healing experiences, Christine says she knows exactly where she’ll go for any healthcare needs in the future.

“I would absolutely say, ‘Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital,’ when I’ve had critical times in my life, they’ve come up with the resolution — and they’ve done it with extreme kindness and professional treatment,” Christine said. “They give me everything I need to be successful in healing. St. Mark’s Hospital will always be my first choice.”

Salt Lake Orthopaedic Clinic offers same-day consults with a joint specialist for all new injuries. Be seen today or the very next business day. To schedule an appointment call (801) 261-7479.

July 07, 2023
St. Mark's Hospital

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