Reconstructive Surgery

Sarah Bush Lincoln’s team of experts put Larry Lilly back together after a devastating vacation accident.

Larry & Alex Lilly Still recovering a year after taking a life-changing trip to Guatemala, Larry Lilly is thankful for the simple things in life – like being able to walk again and play catch with his son.

“It’s humbling to learn to walk again at age 47,” the Mattoon Superintendent of Schools said, crediting a host of caregivers at Sarah Bush Lincoln for helping him each step of the way. “I’m just thankful to be alive and to be upright.”

Lilly suffered an unfortunate accident after making a last-minute decision to join his wife and son on a ziplining adventure down a mountain in Guatemala. The trip was intended to connect the Lilly’s adopted son, Alex, with the history and culture of his birth land. With a weeklong itinerary planned, his son was most looking forward to ziplining.

Lilly said he was surprised to discover they would be zig-zagging down a series of eight ziplines after hiking to the top of the mountain. However, he successfully made it down three ziplines before experiencing trouble with the primitive hand brake. On the fourth zipline, he apparently grabbed the zipline to brake from an angle, causing him to sway back and forth. Gaining speed as he tried to correct his mistake, he crashed into the side of the boulder on which he was supposed to land. “I knew immediately that I had torn my leg up pretty badly,” he said.

In extreme pain, he was even more horrified to learn he would have to zipline one more time before there was a pathway for workers to carry him down the mountain for care. With two guides carefully sandwiched in front and behind him, “I went flying through the air with a broken leg,” he said.

Transported to a rural health clinic with limited resources, Lilly sought advice back home from SBL Family Practitioner Robert Wochner, MD. Reaching him by cellphone, “He reassured me and told me to follow my gut instinct. I felt so much better after talking with him. He was great,” Lilly said of Dr. Wochner.

After enduring a painful procedure to set his leg, Lilly was taken by ambulance to a modern hospital for further treatment in Guatemala City, a three-hour drive. There, he learned he would have to wait a couple more weeks before the necessary surgery could be performed due to the extreme swelling in his leg. Instead, he opted to fly home, arriving in St. Louis.

“I could have just stopped at one of the hospitals in St. Louis, but I just wanted to get home so badly,” Lilly said, adding that Dr. Wochner made arrangements for his arrival in the SBL Emergency Department. “Sarah Bush Lincoln is just a mile and a half from my home and there was a great comfort in being there. The people knew I was coming and everyone was so caring and compassionate. I needed that as much as I needed anything.”

The next day, SBL Orthopedic Surgeon Aaron Eubanks, MD, FAAOS, surgically attached an external fixation device to keep his fractured bones stabilized and in alignment until the swelling went down for surgery. Returning home with the device pinned to his left leg, Lilly and his wife, Roxanne, were thankful for the assistance they received from Lincolnland Home Care nurses, teaching the family how to clean his pin-site wounds and to cope with his everyday living needs.

Two and a half weeks later, on April 30, Dr. Eubanks reconstructed his shattered tibial plateau and repaired his knee during a five-hour surgery. “Dr. Eubanks was great. He explained my options and outlined a plan for my recovery. I had complete confidence in his abilities,” Lilly said. With his displaced fracture requiring two plates and 15 to 20 locking screws to repair, Lilly likened the X-ray image of the inside of his leg to that of the Eiffel Tower. “There’s a lot of metal in there,” he said.

Though he had already started working from home, now came the long road to recovery. For the next eight months, beginning six weeks after his surgery, Lilly worked with SBL Physical Therapist Beth Jensen to learn to walk again. “When I first started seeing Beth, I couldn’t do anything on my own. It was very difficult having to depend on others for the simple things we take for granted, like being able to get out of a chair,” Lilly said. “Beth has a way of pushing you when you need to be pushed and encouraging you when you need to be encouraged.”

Making slow, but steady progress, Lilly was walking on crutches by mid-June. While pleased with this accomplishment, he was still concerned that he couldn’t lift his left foot up to take a step. He underwent another surgery to repair nerve damage caused by scar tissue in his leg in late July at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. The surgery was a success, though he is still working to gain full range of motion. It motivated him to work harder, walking with just a cane by early August and unassisted by late September.

Lilly expressed his appreciation to Dr. Eubanks, Jensen and all the staff members that helped him along the way. “Everyone was outstanding, from the receptionists who always greeted me with a smile, to the home care nurses and the physical and occupational therapists,” Lilly said. “I am very grateful for the care I received.” He also expressed appreciation to his family, friends and co-workers who provided much-needed support during his long and sometimes difficult journey.

Lilly completed physical therapy in late January and continues to strengthen his leg by exercising at the Mattoon Area Family YMCA. An avid baseball fan, he is looking forward to helping coach his son’s summer team again this year and going to St. Louis Cardinal games.

Despite his misfortune, Lilly said he wouldn’t trade the trip to Guatemala for anything in the world. “That’s the emotional part of it,” Lilly said. “Alex got to see the country he came from and experience a little of its culture – even if it was only for a few days. I hope it gave him a better understanding of who he is.”