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Shaka Belfon

Hoboken, NJ

More than 25 years ago in Trinidad & Tobago, I fell off a motorbike and fractured my left leg. The tibia broke diagonally from mid-shaft upwards into the articular surface of the joint capsule of the knee and the fibula also sustained an open fracture. After I was out of emergency mode, my doctor said it seemed that my bones were fractured in the worst possible way.

The immediate results of these injuries were notable leakage of synovial fluid (the fluid in the capsule of a joint that helps it to move without friction between cartilage) from the knee with significant deformation of the left leg. Consequently, the leg was shortened by about 2 inches and there were deep wounds on the affected leg.

The Emergency Department and the Doctors in Trinidad did their best to save my leg and my life. However, at the time they did not have the technology to do the multiple simultaneous operations required to save the knee joint and manipulate the bones back in alignment without major surgery.

Four months later, after the bones were solidly healed in their misaligned positions, I went to Havana, Cuba. The doctors there were dismayed that I did not come there before the bones were healed. They too did their best without doing major surgery and after a few months of external manipulation of the bones, the deformation of the leg was reduced by about 60% and the leg length discrepancy was reduced by about half an inch to 1.5 inches. I wholeheartedly tanked Cuba and the Cuban medical team at the Frank Pais Orthopedic Hospital.

After Cuba, I lived a fairly active life for the next 35 years. But inevitably the leg deformation started getting more and more obvious, my whole body was being affected negatively and painfully. Over the years my knee joint and the entire leg had deteriorated tremendously. Intense pain when I walked had become a daily experience, it took a lot of my mental resources to maintain an optimistic attitude to life. At times it felt like my very being was at stake.

On my 60th birthday, I thought that I had to find some kind of medical intervention apart from pain medication. Yet, I had neither the financial resources nor the medical insurance to do anything more than massage therapy and anti-inflammatory 'vitamin' supplements. I never took pain medication. Massage, vitamin supplements and a strong optimistic, anti-aging attitude carried me through until I qualified for and was able to afford Medicare and a good supplemental medical plan.

Now that I was ready to explore knee replacement surgery as an option, Hospital For Special Surgery (HSS) was my first choice and up to this time more than about two years later, I am pleased with that decision.

Dr. Leali looked at the initial x-rays and MRI of my leg and confirmed that surgery was my best option, but because of years of wear, deformation and degeneration of the joint, it is likely to be a very complex case that may require two different surgeries.

My spirit and my hopes fell because I figured that I was in for a lot of pain, a huge hospital bill and perhaps a shaky outcome. However, Dr. Leali assured me that there was a surgeon at HSS who was an expert in technically complex cases and if mine can be done in one surgery he was the man With Dr. Seth Jerabek, I was assured that whatever the course of action was, I would receive the best care possible. I did receive 5-star care - Dr. Jerabek and his technical team worked out a plan to do my treatment in one move. He and his clinical team did a truly astonishing job.

After more than twenty years living with a deformed leg and being in constant pain when I walked, my leg is now restored almost to its original state and I walk without pain. I am no longer as conscious about my injury as I was a couple years ago; my entire body is no longer being twisted by the inexorable forces of physiological compensation and adaptation and the overall quality of my life has improved significantly.

Without the generous treatment of my injuries by Cuban medical professionals, I may not have been able to reach the U.S., let alone receive the critical surgery I got at HSS.