Stories of Recovery: Andrew Cloake’s Fracture & Journey To Walk Again
Andrew Cloake wasn’t expecting this outcome the day he decided to climb into his locked apartment from the roof: a shattered tibia and fibula and a potential amputation prognosis. Yet that is exactly what happened. Luckily his leg was saved, but the road to recovery has been a long one. Here Andrew recounts the fall, his progress so far, and journey back to walking independently again.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
My name is Andrew Cloake, and I was living in Sydney’s beautiful waterfront suburb of Woolloomooloo in an apartment at the time of the accident. I work in technology sales, an industry that I’ve been consulting in for 7 years, but am also very passionate about sport. Rugby was my sport of choice, however an ACL and MCL rupture ended my playing days many years ago. Nonetheless I still remained active and enjoyed social sport, playing in two futsal teams, as well as skateboarding and swimming weekly in the lead up to the accident.
How did the injury occur?
Six months ago, I had a severe fall whilst attempting to enter my locked apartment from the roof. As I was lowering myself down onto the balcony, my right shoulder dislocated; this caused me to lose my grip and land onto my right leg, which was fully extended. The impact broke my ankle, fibula and tibia. In addition, I broke my right shoulder.
The tibia and fibular fractures are what is referred to as complex comminuted fractures. In these types of fractures the bone is shattered into many pieces and the bone also breaks through the skin. My treating doctor estimated that my tibia was in 30 pieces, maybe more, but they lost count!
What treatment was required for reset your bones?
The doctors predicted that due to the time the bones were exposed to oxygen, the risk of infection was high, in which case they would need to amputate the leg. Thankfully this was not the case, but immediate surgery was required.
The surgeon attempted to align the bones as best he could without cutting off blood supply to the leg. During the procedure he inserted two 150 mm plates on both the tibia and the fibula to act as internal splints and hold the pieces of broken bone together using screws. Unfortunately, due to the amount of comminution, it was like screwing into putty. This meant that rather than just removing my A frame external fixation, I would need an additional surgery to have a Taylor Spatial Frame attached.
These are a Russian invention from the 50s typically used to lengthen limbs, now used for limb reconstruction in the West. To this day, I still wear it to guide the bones, as they congeal and grow back together. People say, ‘you must hate it?’ but in some ways it is a big part of me. It allows me to walk around unassisted for periods of the day, which is very important as the weight bearing is what stimulates healing.
How did you react after the injury and what kept you positive during recovery?
From the outset of the fall, I knew I had a long road ahead and had to come to terms with that early on. My time in hospital was initially a month, followed by a series of additional visits.
I decided whilst in hospital that I was going to write a studio album. I’ve always been enthusiastic about creating music and the injury presented a unique opportunity to spend the time and resources in doing it properly. I set goals and would write five poems or songs a day. It was a great way to express myself when I was down. It also gave me meaning and purpose in the absence of my hectic career. Presently writing has finished and the album is currently being finalised.
How has your injury affected you physically and mentally?
The lack of movement I had for such a long period of time, has left my foot encumbered; the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia has shortened, making my toes grip the ground and restricting my ankle range. My physiotherapy has focused on stretching these areas to familiarise them with movement, massage to break down scar tissue, and exercises to strengthen my leg.
Strengthening the foundations of my leg, especially the muscles above my knee, has been so important as it will allow me to weight bare effectively and ensure that once the frame is removed, I can begin the intensive physio to learn to walk again. Doctors believe this milestone may be 8 to 14 months away, making the recovery a 2-year process.
A lot of emphasis is placed on physical rehabilitation, but I’m also working on the mental side as well. Being on your back for so long can mean that you are susceptible to hitting rock bottom, which has happened a couple of times. Exercise is a great anti-depressant, but when you have physical limitations you realise it’s important to have other tools to cope mentally. I now spend just as much time exercising my mental health with projects, meditation and expressing how I feel to family and friends.
Creating a goal of writing an album, and having it complete by my birthday (February 8th) and published online by the end of March has kept me positive and on track outside of doing my rehab. Even though an injury is a terrible thing to go through, I feel like I have a better relationship with myself, I truly know what it means to put my health first, and it’s given me perspective on what truly matters. Today as I write this, I feel very positive about the potential outcome and am grateful for what I have.
What is your best advice for someone currently going through recovery from an injury or illness?
Talk to people who have had the same injury. Learning from their success stories and finding positivity in them has been invaluable for me. Remind yourself that it does get better, which is so hard to see. I’ve been in terribly dark places, but I am all the better for it now.
You can follow Andrew’s journey on Instagram @dante_swish where he shares the ups and downs of life after injury and updates on his soon to launch album.
Andrew Ilieff is a physiotherapy based in Double Bay, Sydney. Andrew has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. To book a consultation, click the link below.