“Judd Santry says at first he didn’t think much of it when his ski tips crossed and he went down. It was March of 2008 and the Arapahoe Basin ski area was in the midst of a typical freeze-melt cycle when the snow freezes up and turns firm at night and then softens up during the day, creating the threat of avalanche.
As a ski patroller, Judd was checking the snow quality along with another patroller before opening up a run. “It happened so fast, I just hooked my skis and went down. I got up right away and didn’t notice anything. But then I went over a little mound and felt something strange when my knees came up toward me. Not much pain, but sort of a strain in the back of my knee and my leg felt kind of loose.”
Still, Judd thought it was just a tweak and wanted to wait a few days to see if it would get better. Everyone kept telling him to get it checked out. Then, while walking down a flight of stairs, Judd slightly hyper-extended his knee and felt a sensation he had never felt before. He decided to go in for an MRI and sure enough, he had torn his ACL and would need surgery.
Judd’s reaction was one of disbelief; he thought they were looking at someone else’s knee. “It was a freak accident. I must have fallen like that 500 times before and never injured myself,” he recalls. “It’s a harsh reality when you’re told you can’t do the one thing you love to do for several months.” To make matters worse, Judd says it snowed for 11 straight days after he injured his knee.
Judd chose to have his surgery performed by Dr. Richard Cunningham. Working at his other job as a critical care technician in the emergency room at St. Anthony’s Summit Medical Center, Judd had met Dr. Cunningham several times and was well aware of his excellent reputation as a full-service knee and shoulder specialist with particular expertise in ACL reconstruction.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is probably the most commonly injured ligament of the knee. It connects the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shin bone). The main goal of ACL surgery is to keep the tibia from moving too far forward under the femur bone and to get the knee functioning normally again.
Most surgeons favor using a piece of tendon or ligament to replace the torn ACL. Prior to surgery, Judd did some research and discovered he would be an ideal candidate for an auto graft where tissue from his own body is used to repair the ligament. Judd knew of other patrollers who had undergone an auto graft transplant and they all felt they ended up with a stronger knee because of it.
Dr. Cunnningham has followed the research on ACL grafts closely. He ascribes to the practice of attaching grafts at their original insertion points where the reproduction of native attachments ensures a better outcome.
Dr. Cunningham chose to repair Judd’s knee using the new “double-bundle” reconstructive technique. The ACL is comprised of two separate functional bundles of fascicles, not a single cord. Dr. Cunningham says traditional ACL reconstruction treats the ligament as though it were a single construct, replicating one of the functional bundles but not the other. With the double-bundle technique, the ACL is restored using two bundles. Dr. Cunningham performs the surgery using an arthroscope, a small fiber-optic TV camera that is used to see and operate inside the joint.
Judd makes no bones about it; he says his surgery and the subsequent recovery that followed were rough. “It was six months of pain,” he recalls. As a child Judd suffered from night terrors and for some reason, the pain medication brought back the terrors.
Judd remembers his physical therapy sessions being particularly painful. “It’s frustrating when your knee won’t move more than an inch.” Still, he chose an aggressive PT schedule because he was committed to making a full recovery and regaining full range of motion in his knee. Less than six months after surgery, Judd was back on his skis.
“Everyone who worked with me at VSO was great. I never had any problems getting in, my wait times were 10-15 minutes at the most,” says Judd. “I was unbelievably fortunate to have surgery up here where the quality of doctors is so fantastic. I hope I never have to have surgery again, but if I do, I will definitely go back to Vail-Summit Orthopaedics.”