Esteban’s lucky break: How ankle surgery saved a life

Estebans story broken ankle.jpg

The 24th June, 2022 started just like any other Sunday for Esteban. He was in his garden, trying to avoid the volley of Nerf bullets his cousins were aiming at him as they played in the warm summer sun.

"I went to dodge a bullet,” the 23-year-old explains, "and lost my balance. As I went down, I crossed my leg and heard a click. I remember thinking it hurt, but I’m pretty flexible so didn’t think it was anything serious."

In the absence of severe pain, Esteban assumed it was nothing more than an ankle sprain, albeit a nasty one that made it difficult to bear weight. He put some ice on it to bring down the swelling, but there was no bruising to speak of and the pain continued to be easily manageable. It seemed OK. "It just didn’t feel that bad," recalls Esteban, almost laughing at the memory.

Getting his ankle injury checked out

Having signed up to a healthcare plan just weeks before, Esteban decided to give them a call, just in case. Once he mentioned the “click”, the advice was quick and clear – seek treatment. The fact he wasn’t in severe pain meant a long wait at his nearest NHS hospital, so instead he decided to sleep on it and see how it felt in the morning. When he woke up he was still finding it difficult to walk, so his father agreed to give him a lift to The Princess Grace Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK. Both, however, were still convinced it was nothing more than a straightforward sprain.

In fact, there was nothing straightforward about it.

An unexpected diagnosis leads to immediate surgery

No sooner had he arrived at The Princess Grace Hospital, Esteban realised things were more serious than he’d thought. Within 15 minutes he’d had an X-ray that confirmed he’d broken his ankle in two places. A same-day appointment with Mr Shelain Patel, a member of the Stanmore Foot & Ankle Specialist Group at HCA UK, followed and brought more shocking news. "Shelain sent me for a CT scan," Esteban remembers. "As soon as he got the results, he told me he wanted to operate on me that day. He said, 'If you don't want life-changing injuries, we need to operate as soon as possible.'"

Esteban was left reeling. Not only had he broken his ankle, but the break was serious enough to require open surgery to realign and fix the bone and stabilise the joint.

"I'm a cyclist, I'm a swimmer. I do sports for fun,” says Esteban, although, in truth, his achievements go far beyond this modest summary. A former elite swimmer, he was ranked sixth in the country at one point. A loss of mobility in his ankle would have had a devastating impact.

The whole process, from initial X-ray to preparation for surgery, had taken just a few hours, and this was to prove vital – there was one more unexpected twist to come.

More than just ankle surgery, it was a life-saver

When he came round from the anaesthetic, his ankle fixed, Esteban was in for another shock. The operation, which had been scheduled to take an hour and a half, had lasted for nearly three hours. The surgery had revealed the presence of an enormous blood clot that could have cost him much more than his mobility.

"I thought maybe I could have lost my leg, but they said, ‘No. If you’d waited 12 to 24 hours more, you could have had a stroke or a heart attack and died on the spot.’ I'm just so thankful I decided to get it checked out when I did."

While Esteban’s fast track from diagnosis to treatment was a literal life saver, the follow-up care he’s received has helped him get back to everyday activities in the space of just a few months. After being bed-bound for four weeks, Esteban was keen to get up and about, surprising everyone, including surgeon Mr Patel, with the speed of his recovery.

"I started going to see Emily Drakes, a physio based at HCA UK’s Outpatient Department on Devonshire Street,” says Esteban. “She was amazing, and was able to get my foot from barely any movement to back to pretty much full mobility."

Gradual managed recovery

There’s still some fatigue from time to time, "occasionally it feels like I’ve come out of the gym after leg day," Esteban smiles, but the finishing line for his recovery is clearly well within sight. "I cycle three times a week, which is good," he says. "And swimming feels like normal – I'm close to a hundred percent in the pool. When I tumble turn, I push off the wall and it feels amazing."

Given all the complications he faced along the way, this speedy recovery is all the more remarkable. But thanks to the quick thinking, on-the-spot decision-making and same-day treatment he received, time is something that Esteban has plenty of.

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