Dorothy Zoellner may be closing in on 90, but there’s not much that can break her spirit—not even a broken leg.
On July 7, while she talked with her daughter on the phone, Zoellner went to sit down on a chair. She slipped off the silky fabric and onto the floor, a drop of 24 inches.
“I couldn’t move,” said Zoellner, 88, who lives at Beacon Hill Retirement Community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I told my daughter, ‘I broke my leg again.’”
About a dozen years ago, she leaned against a chair on wheels and was sent flying. Diagnosis? Fractured right femur.
An ambulance rushed her to Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital on July 7. Diagnosis? A complex femur fracture between her hip and knee prostheses.
“I broke my leg severely,” Zoellner said of her ordeal. “It was a very freakish accident.”
Her seven children, who all live in the area, met her at the hospital.
“I was well cared for,” she said.
Her children knew of Andrew Fras, MD, a Spectrum Health orthopedic trauma surgeon, and requested that he perform their mom’s surgery.
They transferred Zoellner to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, where Dr. Fras implanted another rod in her leg the following day.
“Because I had broken it before I had a rod in that part of my leg, from the knee to the hip,” she said. “He wanted to make sure that that rod was still satisfactory.”
During a complex procedure, Dr. Fras implanted a large plate and screws around her pre-existing implants.
It was still very good so he just added a supplement,” Zoellner said. “I think it’s going to be absolutely fine.”
As she has all of her life, Zoellner relies on her positive outlook to help her through life’s stumbling blocks. She sees this stumble as nothing more than a minor inconvenience. She’s determined to continue her therapy, regain her strength and drive again.
She spent nine weeks in a wheelchair.
“I could still be out and about,” the Grand Rapids native said. “I’m not unhappy.”
She recently graduated to a walker.
“I just got out of the wheelchair a week ago,” Zoellner said. “I just don’t have strength in my leg yet. My age is not necessarily with me, but I’m determined so I’ll make it work.”
Zoellner, who lost her husband nine years ago, said they had a wonderful life together, traveling the world.
They made it to all seven continents.
Her favorite destinations? Great Britain and Egypt.
These days, she still plans to travel, just a little closer to home. Once she can drive again, she’ll resume running errands and going to the mall.
“When I can drive, I go out every day, even if it’s just a nonsense trip,” Zoellner said. “I get out every day to be with other people. I go down (to the on-site dining room) for coffee and a piece of toast every day just for the conversation. For me to sit and look out the window is not my thing.”
She participates in sit-down chair exercises at the retirement community and walks up and down the halls with her walker a couple of times a day “just to keep it exercised.”
“I’m not in any hurry,” she said.
She spends time reading books, watching classic movies, and doing needlepoint, which turned out to be perfect activities while she was confined to her wheelchair.
What did it feel like to lose the wheels and graduate to a walker?
“It felt like getting a raise,” Zoellner said.
Dr. Fras said Zoellner is progressing wonderfully, and that he enjoyed listening to her relay stories about her world travel.
“She’s doing excellent with no pain reported and excellent improvement in mobility,” Dr. Fras said. “She has an excellent prognosis to return to her previous level of mobility.”
He said her positive attitude has energized her recovery.
“Positive attitude and determination to return to function at her age is vital to recovery,” Dr. Fras said.