After totaling his car and facing a double amputation of his leg, Vimal Patel desperately sought a second opinion.
A man’s brother-in-law from California typed “high speed car crash” into Google to find doctors who had experience treating injuries sustained in car crashes.
What is the first name that pops up? By Brian Mullis, Ph.D., trauma orthopedic surgeon at IU Health. Intrigued by the doctor’s expertise, Patel and his family made a call.
A summer phone call two years ago changed the course of Patel’s life.
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Instead of losing both legs below the knee, a 47-year-old man from Orange County is now able to use both legs. He can now do almost everything he was able to do before the accident. The only visible remnants of the incident are a slight limp as he walks, and wounds on both his legs.
Earlier this week, Patel and his wife flew from California to Indianapolis in less than 48 hours.
Sitting in the IU Health conference room with Maris next to her on Tuesday, Patel said, “I got my life back, it meant everything to me. I can’t imagine what my life would be like… Especially if I’m a double amputee.”
“High Speed Car Accident”
On July 28, 2020, a friend stopped by to see the new gray car that McLaren Patel brought home about two weeks ago. They went on a spin and Patel now embarrassedly admitted, wanting to show off for him.
“I ran a little faster than I should have,” he modestly said.
Patel, who was driving around 140 mph through the city streets, lost control and crashed into a lamppost, flipping the car over. His friend was uninjured and no one else was hurt, but Patel’s leg took the brunt of the impact.
Patel thought he might have broken his ankle, but a friend looked at him while waiting for an ambulance and saw a bone sticking out. I’ve also learned that it’s much worse. He had crushed both heel bones, known in doctors’ terms as calcaneus bones. Four days later, doctors in California told Patel that he had no choice but to amputate both of his legs below the knee.
The family considered transferring Patel to another California trauma center, but due to COVID-19, none of the hospitals were accepting transfer patients. They turned to the internet and found Maris. The family thought he must have some connection to his speedway in Indianapolis, his motor, and given the Indy 500, thought he might have expertise in car crashes.
Patel, who owns motels in California and Texas, flew to Indiana in a chartered ambulance.
It turned out that Patels had misunderstood the speedway connection. IU Health actually owns Indianapolis Motor He runs a hospital at the speedway, but Mullis doesn’t typically treat IndyCar drivers. But the surgeon has extensive experience treating similar injuries.Mullis served in the military, including his year in Afghanistan. There he frequently treated victims of his IED explosions that damaged his limbs.
In civilian life, similar accidents are more common not with car accidents, but with motorcycle accidents. In such cases, the patient is forced to choose between amputation or the long and arduous path to salvage the limb, Mullis said.
“We have that discussion every week,” he said.
When Patel arrived, he didn’t like what he first heard.
A doctor in California gave you good advice, Maris told him.
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Mullis explained that multiple surgeries are required to save the limb, each with its own risk of infection. Bones don’t have the same inherent ability to fight infections as other parts of the body, and Mullis estimates that Patel faced at least a 20% risk of infection as he healed. . Mullis leaned towards amputation.
“I thought this wasn’t what I got,” Patel said.
However, Mullis also asked his colleague Dr. Jan Szatkowski to provide a second opinion. Contrary to what others have said, this doctor told Patel that prostheses are not always simple. He’s come a long way, why not see how it goes?
It seemed like the most attractive option for him.
Mullis believes that the decision in such cases is half for the doctor and half for the patient. He knows that limb preservation is neither easy nor guaranteed.
“There is no right or wrong,” Maris said. “It is very patient-specific…. Unfortunately, we have the same number of patients who have had results as good as his story.”
long road to recovery
Mullis and an orthopedic surgeon at IU Health had to work together to save Patel’s foot. And not everything went smoothly. On one occasion, the wound on his leg was slow to heal. A plastic surgeon suggested both leeches and hyperbaric therapy.
The medical staff closely watched Patel as he healed, watching him like a newborn. Slowly but surely healing began. Still, in retrospect, he often feared that he would eventually need an amputation.
Almost every day he said, “I thought this was not going to work.” “As the days went on, I felt okay, a little better.”
About a month later, Patel left IU Health ready to fly back to California in another ambulance. Still, he needed months of therapy.
He spent the next three months in a wheelchair. In December 2020 he was finally able to stand on his own. He immediately sat back 20 seconds after him.
“Just standing up again felt alien,” he said.
By January Patel was back driving. This time I was in a Tesla, and at first I found it difficult to press the accelerator. Could it be PTSD? he wondered. Later he found that his leg was still weak from the injury.
But two years later, Patel says he’s pretty much back to normal.
Aside from a slight limp that gets worse throughout the day due to arthritis and a sore leg, Patel has barely shown any signs of everything he’s experienced. I was walking inside and swimming in the sea. His feet don’t move fast and he’s having trouble finding dress shoes that fit his feet, so he’s still unable to play basketball.
But at least he said he had his feet.
Please contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at shari.rudavsky@indystar. Follow her on her Twitter @srudavsky.