Education

Back on the Slopes After Knee Surgery

Nick Chavez describes himself as “extreme.” The 35-year-oldCoconut Grove sales professional seeks the adventure that comes with hiking,whitewater rafting, jumping off cliffs and snowboarding.

“These are my biggest passions in life,” he said. But with the“extreme” nature of his passion, comes the risk for injury.

Mr. Chavez learned that lesson last year, when asnowboarding run in Breckenridge, Colorado took an unexpected turn, forcing hisleg against a tree and injuring his kneecap.

“An X-ray at the urgent care center in Breckenridge showedmy bone was cracked, and doctors there thought I had a torn ACL,” he recalled. So,when he returned to Miami, he immediately sought care for his injured knee. Buta blood clot in his leg – caused from a combination of the injury and his longflight home – stalled the care he was set to receive, as he waited for the clotto dissolve.

A Second Opinion

Orthopedic Surgeon John Zvijac, M.D.

Meanwhile, friends convinced Mr. Chavez to seek a secondopinion from JohnZvijac, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon from MiamiOrthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute. Dr. Zvijac, who oversees theorthopedic care of numerous collegiate and professional sports teams and is themedical director for Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ student athletes, explainedto Mr. Chavez that his injury was much more complicated than a tear of the anteriorcruciate ligament, or ACL.

A ‘Shattered’ Kneecap

“Dr. Zvijac told me my kneecap had been shattered, and Ialso had torn my MCL and MPFL – the ligaments that held my kneecap in place onmy leg,” Mr. Chavez said.

“The MCL, or medial collateral ligament, holds the knee to the tibia and femur,” Dr. Zvijac explained. “The MPFL, or medial patellofemoral ligament, holds the kneecap in place. In Nick, both were torn from where they were supposed to be and fragments of his patella, or kneecap, were floating around in his knee.”

With the severity of his injury, Mr. Chavez needed kneesurgery.

While reconstructing the knee may have been an option, Dr.Zvijac thought Mr. Chavez’s active lifestyle warranted repairing the injurieswith his own ligaments, which were healthy, even though they were torn from theknee.

“We went in arthroscopically to clean out the loose fragments of the kneecap and smooth out the cartilage under the patella,” Dr. Zvijac explained about Mr. Chavez’ surgery at Doctors Hospital. “Then, we opened up his knee to reattach the two ligaments.”

That surgery took place on April 5, 2019, nearly two monthsafter the injury.

Recovering from Knee Surgery

“I’d say it took about two weeks after my surgery for me to walk comfortably,” Mr. Chavez remembered. “My biggest challenge was that my quadricep muscle had lost considerable mass and strength between the time of my injury in February to April, when I had my knee surgery. I had to work hard in physical therapy and on my own to rebuild that and heal my knee.”

Mr. Chavez went to physical therapy two to three times aweek for three and a half months. He also worked out in his gym, focusing on rebuildinghis muscles and participating, cautiously, in kickboxing classes once he wascleared by the physical therapists.

“Typically, with this type of knee surgery, a person will be walking with a brace in six to eight weeks, resuming their activities in six months and fully recovered by eight months after surgery,” Dr. Zvijac said. “We recommend physical therapy two to three times a week for 10 to 12 weeks.”  

Return to Life

knee surgery
Nick Chavez and Ulissa Montero in Breckenridge in January.

This past January, Mr. Chavez returned to the slopes. Headmits he took it easy because of fear he might reinjure his knee. But, hesays, once he got over that fear – especially since he didn’t feel pain – hequickly resumed his normal snowboarding routine, staying on the slopes untilthe last run of the day.

In February – one year after his accident – he was on thesame mountain in Breckenridge. He also traveled to Park City, Utah at the endof February and says he hit jumps he never had before.

Dr. Zvijac isn’t surprised by Mr. Chavez’s recovery andability to return to what he loves.  

“With a surgical repair of a knee injury like Nick’s, plus his hard work to restore strength and function, I expect his knee to be good the rest of his life,” he said.

As for Mr. Chavez’s take on his recovery, he credits hisattitude and offers this advice to others who may go through a traumaticsports-related injury: “As much as it seems impossible, keep a positiveoutlook. Know it’s going to take time, but you’ll progress from a littleprogress to more and more with time.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.