Meghan Buchanan at Denali

“You will fail, you may even break, but this is not failure. Learn, grow, and rise. Each time higher than the last.” – Meghan Buchanan

On Superbowl Sunday, Meghan was enjoying powder conditions on the ski run Windows in Vail’s Sun Up Bowl when disaster struck. “I was snowboarding at about 35mph when I hit a fallen tree buried under about four feet of new snow,” said Meghan. Vail Ski Patrol responded, and she was rushed to the Vail Health Emergency Room.

Meghan broke the head of her left femur off the shaft of the bone. The bone had twisted so badly that the muscle and everything attached was torn loose. “I had never experienced pain like that before,” said Meghan. Fortunately, Dr. Cunningham was on ER call. “I hadn’t seen an injury that severe in 10 years,” said Dr. Cunningham. “Meghan sustained a severely comminuted subtrochanteric femur fracture. The top of her thigh bone was shattered in many little pieces and the break extended all the way down to the mid portion of the thigh bone.”

Dr. Cunningham inserted an 18-inch rod into her femur and a large lag screw up into the femoral head through two small incisions. “This injury didn’t just impact me physically, but it completely altered my world,” said Meghan. “I had to quit my job and move to Vail fulltime to properly rehab my leg, in order to have any chance to get back to the activities I love.”

After surgery, Meghan began rehabbing her leg. She was on crutches for months. As rehab progressed, Meghan was still in pain. “It felt like my muscle was ripping off my bone. Dr. Cunningham was in full solution mode. He wanted to get me pain free no matter what it took.” After physical therapy, dry needling, and massage therapy Meghan was still in constant pain. “After one year in consistent and intensive physical therapy (2-3 times per week), I was still in 24/7 extreme pain, my muscles were not strengthening and the bone was overgrowing. Dr. Cunningham was invested, caring and so humble, and knew when to ask for input from other physicians regarding my case.”

There was a concern that Meghan could be having an allergic reaction to the titanium rod that was holding her femur in place. As the largest bone in the body, the metal rod needed to stay in place for 18 months to ensure the bone properly healed. At the 18 month mark, Dr. Cunningham removed the metal rod from her leg. “The constant pain was gone the day after surgery. I still had a lot of physical therapy to do and was still sore as the bone marrow grew back, but the life I once knew came rushing back.”

A month after having the rod removed, Meghan could climb stairs unassisted. Six months after that, with approval from Dr. Cunningham, she traveled to Nepal to hike to Everest’s base camp, and Kalapathar, a 14 day journey.

“Other doctors told me that this is my life and I had to live with this pain. Not Dr. Cunningham. He stuck by my side through this very long journey. I am so grateful to Dr. Cunningham and his team for giving me my life back. The extraordinary work by Dr. Cunningham allowed me to explore the wonders of the world, and inspire others.”

Meghan sent out on a quest to complete the Seven Summits. The Seven Summits consist of climbing the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Meghan has completed four of the seven peaks thus far, and is on the hunt for summiting Everest. “Going through this life changing injury, I developed a mental toughness that has really helped me conquer these peaks.”

“For others who have gone through a life altering event like mine, my advice would be to never give up, and to assemble a team that will stand in your corner and support you no matter what. Dr. Cunningham and his team were all standing in my corner supporting me. You will fail, you may even break, but this is not failure. Learn, grow, and rise. Each time higher than the last.”

There are no guarantees of outcome. All surgeries involve the risk of major complications. Before you decide on surgery, discuss treatment options with your doctor. Understanding the risks of each treatment can help you make the best decision for your individual situation. Always ask your doctor about all treatment options, as well as their risks and benefits. Only your doctor can determine the appropriate treatment for your situation. The clinical information and opinions, including any inaccuracies expressed in this material by patients or doctor are not necessarily those of Richard Cunningham, MD and should not be considered as substitute for medical advice provided by your doctor.

Rediscover your inner athlete

Dr. Cunningham specializes in the treatment of knee, shoulder, and sports injuries.