Gregg Rappe was on his way to high school football practice back in 1973 when a car ran a stop sign and broadsided the motorcycle he was riding. He suffered multiple injuries, the most severe one being his left ankle, which was virtually shattered. His doctors at The Mayo Clinic did the best they could to put him back together, but the traumatic ankle injury was a constant reminder of the accident. When he “hobbled” into Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, as he describes it, Rappe had just about given up. His ankle had deteriorated badly over the years and arthritis had set in. By 2013, his range of motion was less than 25 percent. He was living with constant pain and taking large amounts of pain medication.

He’d had enough. Rappe told Dr. Steven Haddad he wanted an amputation and a prosthetic device.“Dr. Haddad gave me the most unique stare and said, ‘Give me a chance to try and help you,’” according to Rappe. “Until that conversation, I had lost all hope that I’d ever be able to regain my mobility and live without terrible pain,” says Rappe. Dr. Haddad told him about the INBONE II from Wright Medical Technologies, Inc., an ankle replacement device he had helped design. Rappe agreed to the surgery, which was not an easy one because his leg had massive amounts of damage as a result of multiple earlier surgeries and skin grafts.

Two years later, Rappe is trekking through the foothills of the Himalayas on his new ankle. His range of motion is nearly 100 percent. When he talks about Dr. Haddad, he uses phrases like “he’s an incredible man” and “he’s my newfound hero.”

Dr. Haddad, who was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal story about ankle surgery trends, is seeing more patients like Rappe these days. As ankle replacement devices are evolving, patients are opting for replacement surgery over ankle fusion surgery. “The newest generation of devices is dramatically different than what was out there 10 years ago,” explained Haddad. “The technology has advanced in a number of ways,” according to Haddad. “The materials are better. The design is vastly improved, meaning that the devices are significantly better at reproducing normal ankle motion than the older implants.” Couple those developments with the fact that surgical approaches and post-operative care are much improved, explains Haddad, and it’s easy to see why the percentage of ankle surgeries that are replacements has doubled in recent years.

Haddad, who serves as immediate past president of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, says the evolution of the ankle replacements has been challenging. “The human ankle joint is about one quarter the size of the knee, yet it needs to be able to support the same amount of body weight. On top of that, the ankle joint connects the lower leg to multiple parts of the foot. Creating the kind of intricate replacement device that can simulate what a real ankle does has been a very complex process.”

Dr. Haddad has served as the head surgeon on the design team for devices like the INBONE II and INFINITY implants from Wright Medical Technologies, Inc. “It’s been more than 40 years since the first ankle replacement was performed in the United States,” according to Haddad. “Until recently, however, ankle fusion was the more common route a surgeon would take to relieve a patient’s severe ankle pain due to arthritis. In the last seven years, we’ve turned a corner in terms of design evolution. The sophistication of these new implants is so remarkable that I don’t anticipate seeing any major design changes within the next decade or so,” predicts Haddad. “For every ankle surgery I do that involves fusing the joint, I am now doing 20 ankle replacements.” Dr. Haddad’s patients travel to see him from all over the United States – from Seattle, WA to West Palm Beach, FL.

In Gregg Rappe’s case, the end result has been life-changing. He says he’s more confident and no longer sees himself as someone disabled by pain and lack of mobility. The best outcome, he says, is that his family appreciates his new ability to join in the fun. In a recent letter of thanks to Dr. Haddad and the IBJI staff, he told them that he is “overwhelmed with joy being a more complete father and husband” thanks to Dr. Haddad and the IBJI team.