Gretchen Jacobs, 55, was starting over. She had two kids in college and had just moved to Chicago from the suburbs. Gretchen knew the bone and joint care she needed was long overdue.  A flight attendant for American Airlines, she had been working a “ground job” for several years due to severe pain.“I had been flying the London route. You takeoff at 6am, arrive at midnight their time, fly back the next morning. By the end of those days, I literally couldn’t walk.”

Gretchen had progressively worsening joint problems that affected both feet. Her second toe crossed over her big toe and she had bunions and hammertoes. She had to actually position her second toe to get into shoes. On her left foot, the deformity was so bad that only a couple toes touched the ground.”

She says, “I should have done something earlier, but my kids were small, I had to work, and I couldn’t figure out how to get the time off. I thought, when I can’t walk at all, I’ll see a doctor. Well, that day had come.”

Diagnosis, Hope and a Plan

After visiting a specialist who said there was nothing he could do for her, Gretchen’s primary care physician at Weiss Hospital referred her to Craig Westin, MD at Illinois Bone & Joint Institute’s Chicago office.“During my first visit, Dr. Westin immediately recognized my problem as one that his colleague, Ari Kaz, MD, was uniquely qualified to treat and referred me directly to him,” says Gretchen. “I was very impressed by that.”

Dr. Kaz, a fellowship trained foot and ankle surgeon specializing in toe injury and deformity, is a recognized expert in surgically repairing “crossover second toe,” a difficult problem to correctly diagnose and treat when left unattended over time. Dr. Kaz had recently presented on the condition at a conference of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).

He says, “I was fortunate to do my fellowship training in Boise, Idaho with Dr. Michael Coughlin, my mentor and one of the world’s leading authorities in foot and ankle surgery. I knew what was wrong and what we needed to do for Gretchen.” Says Gretchen, “When Dr. Kaz said, ‘I can help you,’ I cried, I was so relieved. He explained in detail and in layman’s terms what was going on and that was music to my ears.”

Gretchen’s right foot before and after surgery

Gretchen had surgery on the first foot two weeks later in November 2011 and on her second in April 2012. During the two surgeries, Dr. Kaz fixed her big toe, straightened the second toe and completed a complex soft tissue reconstruction involving realignment of bones and a tendon transfer.

Off work from November to July, Gretchen healed slowly but steadily. She used a knee scooter, then crutches, then a boot to get around. By July she was back at work. Her feet felt great – but now she had excruciating pain in the groin area. “My feet had always been so deformed that I attributed any pain I had anywhere to them. The groin pain I was feeling, it turns out, was really a symptom of my hips.”

Referred back to IBJI by her primary care physician, she saw James Cohen, MD in the Chicago office. After X-rays, he determined Gretchen had severe arthritis, so advanced in both hips she would need them both replaced.”

In November 2012 her left hip was done and in March, the right hip. “Dr. Cohen was so great. In May 2013, I walked without a cane for the first time. I’d been compensating for pain for so long, that I’m relearning how to walk correctly. I’ll be back to work in July and flying the Tokyo route by August. I want to do so many things I couldn’t do before because of the pain. I want to work out, go swimming, go bike riding by the lake.”

Dr. Cohen says, “IBJI is one of the few places where you can get complete orthopedic care. We have every specialty covered and using a shared medical record, we know exactly what was done by everyone previously. That really helps continuity of care.” Says Dr. Kaz, “Healthcare is a team sport and Gretchen was a great teammate. She really worked hard in therapy, was compliant after surgery and had a great result.”

Gretchen says, “I highly recommend IBJI. It was a life-changing experience for me. I was always treated with such courtesy and respect. I feel very fortunate to have found two wonderful doctors I could trust with everything I had done.”