January 12, 2017

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center team works to end woman’s decade-long journey with chronic pain

After slipping on ice and destroying her ankle, Celeste Cocca endured several unsuccessful surgeries and lived in constant pain for 10 years. Finally, she was referred to St. Vincent Charity Medical Center where Lou Keppler, M.D., co-director the Spine and Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, and Michael B. Canales, DPM, helped eradicate her pain. An article about her experience ran in the hospital’s online monthly newsletter. Below is the full text of the article.

A 10-year journey with pain ends with care Beyond Medicine™

In March 2001, Celeste Cocca’s morning started like any other. She rushed to get her kids up and off to school, prepared herself for work and beat the traffic downtown to make it to work on time at her job at a local bank.

As she stepped out of her car, she slipped on black ice and fell to the ground. And in that split second, her life changed.

That morning marked the beginning of what would become a 13-year ordeal of pain, multiple surgeries and emotional journey to get her life back.

After the fall, Celeste sat stunned in the middle of the street, staring down at her foot and leg, which were facing opposite directions. Instantly, she knew her ankle was broken. Still in shock, Celeste didn’t notice the oncoming traffic but thanked God that a co-worker was just behind her and quickly helped her out of the street and to a nearby emergency room.

The next day, she had the first of what became 10 surgeries over 10 years to install rods, screws and fuse bones together in attempt to repair the destroyed ankle. None of the surgeries were successful and Celeste lived in constant pain throughout those years. 

“I just sat in the doctor’s office and cried,” she said. “It was horrible. Just like that, my life became about the pain. And as a single parent, failure was not an option—I had to take care of my kids.”

Powering through the next 10 years, Celeste was determined to work around the pain. She used a stool to sit on to cook dinner and iced her swollen ankle every night, praying to get through the next 24 hours. Determined to carry on, Celeste miraculously never called in sick a single day throughout those 10 years.

Then, in 2011, fate stepped in when a friend referred her to St. Vincent Charity’s Dr. Lou Keppler, an orthopedic surgeon. 

For the first time, Celeste felt like a doctor looked at her entire situation and acknowledged her pain for something real and not imagined. Dr. Keppler recommended a knee replacement because of the damage done trying to cope with her ankle pain. After her knee replacement, Dr. Keppler believed there was something that could be done to help her ankle and referred her to Dr. Michael Canales, a foot and ankle surgeon, for treatment.

“Dr. Canales was a Godsend,” Celeste said. “He was the first doctor to look at my X-rays and understand what was causing my pain. He was also the first to ever say out loud that my ankle was in trauma.”

Developing a two-year treatment plan, Dr. Canales finally gave Celeste hope. As part of his treatment, Dr. Canales developed a short-term and long-term plan to bring Celeste relief.

“Both previous fusions had failed and every time a patient has an operation, the likelihood of success goes down,” said Dr. Canales.

As a believer in communication as the cornerstone for the doctor-patient relationship, Dr. Canales quickly picked up on Celeste’s nonverbal cues regarding additional bone fusion surgery. Noticing her body language, Dr. Canales knew that attempting bone fusion for a third time was not an option for Celeste. So, he worked with her on a two-year plan, including removing hardware and prescribing a brace to strengthen the ankle.

As her December ankle replacement surgery drew nearer, Celeste prepared herself—and her family, for a long recovery and how that would impact their Christmas traditions. However, Celeste’s Christmas surprise came when almost immediately after surgery, she realized she was finally pain free.

“I felt so great. It was unbelievable. After living all those years in pain, it was amazing. I could move again and didn’t need any pain medication. I was actually able to make all the cookies and candy. It was an amazing Christmas,” she said.

She was also able to take back up riding her bike, a hobby she loved before her ankle surgery, and then lost 30 pounds as a result. Celeste credits St. Vincent Charity and both Dr. Canales and Dr. Keppler for helping her end her 13-year journey living with chronic pain. They treated her as an individual patient, evaluating her specific situation and believed that they need to find—and more importantly, could find a solution for her chronic pain.

“Dr. Canales and Dr. Keppler literally gave me my life back.”

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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