My Big (Literal) Break

Kendall Harvey avatar

by Kendall Harvey |

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Editor’s note: This post includes images of a bone break that may be disturbing to readers.

For some time now, I’ve needed to use a walker (or another mobility aid). My physical therapist, Kelli, has been encouraging me to use my rollator around the house. It is inconvenient because I have a son who’s almost 4 years old, plus a 1-year-old daughter. My son loves when I use my walker because he rides on the seat like it’s a fun rolling chair ride. My daughter, however, can’t understand that if she wiggles, she will fall off and get hurt. So I can’t use the walker with her.

My kids are just one of the many excuses I use to avoid the walker. I also don’t want to “look disabled,” I don’t want to become dependent on a device to get around, and I don’t want to admit to myself that my disease has progressed. Kelli suggested looking at it as fall prevention, instead of a walking aid. She said, “If you have a big fall, it’s likely going to be when you aren’t running around with the kids. It’s going to be when you’re tired. If you use a walker then, it will keep you safer.” How right she was.

On Memorial Day, my family and I went over for poolside pizza by my parents’ backyard pool. We had a fabulous day of fun in the sun! After lunch, my husband Kyle and my son dropped my daughter and me off at the house while they ran up to the local snow cone place for a summer treat. I put my daughter down for a nap and went to take a shower. I was walking from my bedroom to my bathroom when I tripped. It was one of those glorious, typical FA, flailing falls. I felt a snap in my ankle on my way down.

I quickly assessed my injuries. My head didn’t hit anything. My neck and back could move without pain. My arms and wrists (which normally take the brunt of my impact in my failed attempts to brace myself) were fine. I was scared to look at my ankles.

I looked down, but I couldn’t see my left foot. It was dangling off to the outside of my leg. All I saw was my leg bone, ending abruptly where my foot should start. I was in complete shock. I somehow got to my phone which was charging on my nightstand about 4 feet away. I called Kyle and tried to remain as calm as possible (I knew he would have me on Bluetooth and that my son would hear me). I told him that I’d fallen and broken my ankle really badly. I told him I could see my leg bone. He assured me he was rushing home.

Next, I called my parents. I knew they would need to handle the kids while Kyle and I went to the hospital. Thankfully they live five minutes away. As I was lying on the ground, waiting for my saviors to arrive, I snapped a few pictures of my broken ankle. I don’t know why I did that. As I said, I was in shock.

My ankle from different angles. (Photo by Kendall Harvey)

Surprisingly, it didn’t really hurt that bad. At first. My parents and Kyle arrived within seconds of each other. My dad swooped my son up and took him over to their house while my mom and Kyle rushed inside. We agreed we needed ambulance assistance. While Kyle called 911, the pain started.

Kyle scrambled (as carefully as possible) to put some clothes on me before the ambulance arrived. When it came, the medical crew assessed my injuries and started IV pain medication immediately. They put a foam fit-to-form splint around my disfigured foot to keep it immobile during transport. That seven-minute ride was the longest seven minutes of my life.

I was so drugged up and in such shock that I don’t remember much. Apparently, I had X-rays and doctors sedated me to reset the break. I awoke, in a temporary cast, to Kyle’s shell-shocked face. The doctors told me what I was expecting — I would need major surgery.

I went home, and we began researching orthopedic surgeons. In the morning we called offices as soon as they’d opened. We got in with the hands-down best orthopedic surgeon in Austin, Dr. Kelly Cunningham, for later that afternoon. He usually does surgeries on Fridays, but he didn’t want to make me wait that long. He scheduled me for 6 a.m. After the most painful, miserable night of my life, I was on my way to go under the knife for the first time.

My ankle two titanium plates and 13 screws later. (Courtesy of Kendall Harvey)

Two titanium plates and 13 screws later, my ankle is rebuilt — I’m on the road to recovery.

Friedreich’s ataxia caused this whole ordeal. But my accident could have been prevented if I hadn’t been so stubborn and refused help. Moral of the story: listen to your body. And your physical therapist. They know more than you do.


Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


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