Prevea Health

Back on His Feet: Alan's Story

As a grandfather, avid hunter and employee at a local manufacturing company, Alan Drake spends a lot of time on his feet. When he began experiencing sharp pain in the big toe of his left foot, his life was impacted significantly. Simple tasks like walking the dog or walking from one machine at work to the next became nearly impossible.

“I was actually walking on the outside of my foot because I couldn’t put any pressure on my big toe or on the inside of my foot,” said Alan. “It almost felt like it was broken.”

The pain Alan was experiencing in his toe was caused by arthritis, a condition in which the cartilage tissue within a joint becomes inflamed, damaged and/or is worn away. He sought treatment from Dr. Todd Sommer, a podiatric surgeon and family medicine physician.

“Arthritis in the big toe joint -  a condition known as hallux rigidus - affects one in 45 Americans over the age of 50, or about two million people,” says Dr. Sommer, who in February 2017, became the first surgeon in Northeast Wisconsin to perform a new, FDA-approved surgical procedure utilizing a synthetic cartilage toe implant. 

The Cartiva® Synthetic Cartilage Implant replaces the damaged cartilage surface of the big toe to help relieve the pain and stiffness caused by worn cartilage. Unlike a fusion, which locks the joint in place, the cartilage implant significantly reduces or eliminates joint pain without sacrificing the foot’s natural movement; allows the joint to move naturally so the patient can retain mobility and range of motion; and allows the patient to place their full weight on their foot immediately after the procedure without a cast.

“The literature, as well as our patients, indicates about a 96-percent improvement in pain symptoms with the Cartiva implant,” said Dr. Sommer. “We can increase the range of motion in the big toe joint and greatly improve the overall functional capacity of the toe with this procedure. It’s wonderful.”

Alan was one of Dr. Sommer’s first patients to receive the Cartiva implant; the procedure was performed at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in March 2017. “Even in the days before the surgery, I had sharp pains in my toe,” recalls Alan. “After surgery, the sharp pain was gone. Two and a half weeks later, I was able to put on a regular shoe; and three weeks later, I had no pain at all – not even when walking.”

Thanks to the Cartiva procedure, Alan – and many other patients who have undergone this procedure - are back to doing what they enjoy, pain-free.

“If you are going through the pain I once experienced, get the surgery,” said Alan. “Don’t put it off. To go every day with pain in your foot is not worth it.”

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