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Jumping in with Both Feet

Category: Health Stories
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Dana Nutt and her husband look forward to long walks on their lake property once she is fully recovered.

How two foot surgeries at St. Luke’s got one woman ready for retirement

After working as a prison guard for 27 years, Dana Nutt was excited to retire. Her husband and she had bought lake property, and they were looking forward to enjoying time together. But Dana’s arthritic pain had gotten so bad that she could barely walk.

She knew she needed a knee replacement, so she talked to her doctor to start the process. “Once my knee was fixed and had healed a bit, I was so excited to finally go for a walk,” said Dana. “I put my shoes on and headed out the door. But I only made it to the neighbor’s house. The pain in my ankle was terrible.”

Determined to enjoy her retirement, Dana talked to her doctor again. This time, he referred her to foot and ankle specialist Dr. Xan Courville at St. Luke’s Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. “When I see new patients, I always look at both feet for comparison,” said Dr. Courville. “It didn’t take long for me to see that Dana had two separate problems, one in each foot.”


The right side: end-stage ankle arthritis

On the right side, Dana was experiencing debilitating pain from end-stage ankle arthritis. On the left side, her arch was collapsing. If these issues were left untreated, they would start to affect her new knee and limit the walking she wanted to do.

In the past, Dana had tried cortisone injections, orthotics and ankle braces to address her ankle arthritis. However, none of these provided lasting relief. Dr. Courville suggested a total ankle replacement. Dana was immediately on board. “With arthritis, I felt kind of hopeless. It just takes over your body,” said Dana. “But when I found out I could get a new ankle, I was really excited.”

Ankle replacement surgery typically takes one and a half to three hours. Afterwards, patients stay in the hospital up to two nights. The experience for Dana was much easier than she expected. “Surgery always makes me nervous,” said Dana. “But my ankle was absolutely the easiest surgery I've ever had.”

After getting a brand-new knee and ankle, nothing would stop her from taking the final step to fix her other foot. She waited a bit to heal, and then went right back in to see Dr. Courville.


The left side: a collapsing arch

“The flattening of an arch is a problem with the alignment of the joints beneath the ankle and, usually, from a tendon injury,” explained Dr. Courville. To treat this, the joints below and in front of the ankle are fused, and the foot is realigned to recreate an arch. The heel bone is also realigned underneath the ankle and the knee.

While this process does require surgery, patients usually don’t even have to spend the night. “I got to St. Luke’s at 11 am, and I was on my way home by about 3 pm,” said Dana. “It was a pretty painless experience.”

Recovery requires two months of not using the affected foot. After that, another month is typically needed to regain strength for activities of daily life.


Foot and ankle surgery at St. Luke’s

Dana is still recovering, but she looks forward to everything that lies ahead of her. “I am so happy with my ankle replacement, and I know my other foot is going to be great once it’s healed,” said Dana. “I just cannot wait to finally go for that walk!”

Most of all, she is thankful to Dr. Courville and the team that cared for her at St. Luke’s. “Not only does Dr. Courville know a lot, she’s really kind too. Everyone I’ve met at St. Luke’s has been,” said Dana. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Seeing patients like Dana get back on their feet is why Dr. Courville does what she does. “I love getting people back to the activities they enjoy,” said Dr. Courville. “I chose to practice at St. Lukes because it allows me to do this in an intimate setting where the patients really do come first.”

To learn more about orthopedic care at St. Luke’s, visit slhduluth.com/orthopedics
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