Physical therapy gets Rowen back on his feet

Twenty year old farm hand Dustin Rowen was cleaning out a grain bin when the auger guard plate got caught. In a hurry, he kicked the plate to attempt to loosen it without shutting off the equipment, and the auger caught the back of his pants. With his leg caught, he was dragged toward the center of the bin until his leg jammed the machine, breaking belts in the auger along with his ankle.

He was found 30 minutes later with severe injuries to both legs and his hand from where he’d tried to move the auger off of his body. Emergency services arrived and worked to free Dustin. He was transported to a hospital where his injuries were thoroughly cleaned.  A boot was put on his left leg to support his ankle while the achilles tendon healed. Surgery was performed on his right leg to stabilize the ankle and repair tissue. He recovered, bed-ridden, in the hospital for two weeks.

He was then transferred to a specialty facility for plastic surgery and bone reconstruction. “We wanted to save my right leg at all costs. To repair the artery in my ankle they took a muscle from my abdomen during a twelve-hour surgery. They also took skin grafts from my upper thigh to replace the damaged area around my ankle.” After three weeks of recovering in a hospital room, Dustin was able to return to his home north of Lake City.

For two months he could not stand longer than 20 minutes for fear of blood clots. Then he had to learn to walk again. Dustin began utilizing the physical therapy (PT) department at Stewart Memorial Community Hospital in October 2014. Having PT services close to home made it easier for Dustin to come to appointments three times a week for almost a year.

“In April 2015, I had a setback with the hardware,” Dustin says. His body began to reject the two plates, eight screws, and two pins used to reconstruct his ankle. Infection set in, and his surgeon removed all the hardware.  After the six week recovery, Dustin started physical therapy at SMCH again, beginning at square one. The partnership with his physical therapist was important says Dustin, “We worked on regaining the motion and strength. At the end, I was able to run up and down stairs.”

While Dustin was participating in drills with his National Guard unit in June 2016, his ankle suddenly locked up and wouldn’t support any weight. He was brought to the emergency room at SMCH where he was cared for by Dr. Susan Hornback and her team.  “She ordered blood tests and an MRI that confirmed that I had a staph infection,” Dustin says

Dr. Hornback communicated with Dustin’s surgeon in Omaha who recommended immediate surgery. She coordinated transportation for him to get to the surgery center at University of Nebraska Medical Center as quickly as possible. “Dustin was very stoic, I knew he was in quite a bit of pain. We kept him comfortable and began the transfer process,” recalls Dr. Hornback. Dustin’s surgeon cleaned the infection and ten days after his return home, Dustin began his third round with SMCH’s physical therapy.  Physical therapist Laura Hejtmanek’s expertise has brought him to the point where he no longer needs walking aids. Each session, lasting about an hour, consists of several exercises which Dustin attempts to duplicate at home to gain more ground.

“Dustin is an ideal patient. He wants to be able to do everything he did before the accident and is willing to do the work required to get there.  Attitude is everything. Despite the setbacks, he comes back and does the work necessary,” Laura comments.

Sixteen surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy later, Dustin walks with a limp, but he’s quick to grin. “It’s been a long road to recovery and there have been bumps along the way, but with the help of knowledgeable and caring experts and my family and friends, I feel stronger than ever and hopeful for the future.”