The night before Caitrin Skelton’s surgery she was excited. The next morning she would be heading into the operating room to rebuild the torn ligament in her knee. Most would be nervous, but for Caitrin the surgery meant she’d be one step closer to getting back on the basketball court — right where her injury had happened.
“I was going for a lay-up and when I came down my knee totally gave out and I went right down to the ground,” says Caitrin. “The pain was incredible. I couldn’t walk.”
Caitrin was assessed at the orthopaedic clinic at the Aberdeen Hospital where she learned she had torn her ACL, a pretty crucial ligament especially for someone who plays basketball. Positioned right in the middle of the knee, the ACL helps prevent the shinbone from sliding forward on the thigh bone.
“With an injury like Caitrin’s it’s important to get it reconstructed. One could probably run in a straight line but would not be able to play sports that require quick changes in direction, pivots, or shifting weight from side to side. The knee would give out and there would be a high risk of injuring other parts of the knee. As well, there would be a risk of developing early arthritis, especially for someone who’s injured at 17,” says Dr. Tim El-Tahan, Caitrin’s surgeon.
He would know; he suffered the exact same injury when he was 16. Just like Caitrin, he too was going for a lay-up during a basketball game.
Dr. Tim El-Tahan suffered the exact same injury as Caitrin while playing basketball when he was 16. It turns out the experience would change his life. Before that, his plan was to follow in the footsteps of his mother and father and become an engineer and join the family business. “When I tore my ACL the doctor drew a model of the knee and how the ligament works, and how he was going to repair it. It was very cool; I was fascinated with the mechanics and physics of it. And I guess my father was too because after that when I told him I wanted to be a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon I had his blessing.” No doubt, it helped that the surgery was a success and he was able to go on and play national level sports. Orthopedic surgery is the discipline of medicine that deals with bones, joints, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons – basically everything that enables your body to move, excluding your head. “It’s like being an engineer of body mechanics.”
For Caitrin, the diagnosis was bittersweet. She would be able to play basketball competitively again, but it would be a long process. There would be months of physiotherapy both before and after her surgery, necessary to build strength and get her back in shape. Her surgery was scheduled for the fall, which meant that she would miss her senior year of basketball with her team, the North Nova Gryphons.
Fortunately, Caitrin is being cared for in Pictou County where we have one of the four orthopaedic centres in the province.
Dr. El-Tahan joined the Aberdeen Hospital’s orthopaedic department in 2012. From Newfoundland originally and trained at Memorial University, he has practiced in hospitals throughout North America and came here from a fellowship in New Zealand.
“When I arrived I was blown away by the sophistication of the equipment at the hospital. It was on par with what I experienced at private hospitals in the US. We were ahead of a lot of places in Nova Scotia. We had equipment here that I didn’t even have in much larger hospitals in St. John’s or New Zealand.
It was beyond Dr. El-Tahan’s expectations. “After nine months in New Glasgow, there was a job opening back home; however, I was very satisfied in my practice, I was getting the operating time I wanted and had access to the latest equipment. My wife and I felt settled here, we wanted to stay.”
The department has achieved this operational capacity thanks in part to support from the Aberdeen Health Foundation, which has invested $1.5 million in operating room enhancements since 2010.
“The generosity of the people of Pictou County allows us to equip the Aberdeen’s orthopaedic centre with specialized medical equipment to assist surgeons like Dr El-Tahan to help patients like Caitrin. We can all be proud of our orthopaedic centre and the vital role it plays to strengthen our hospital’s place in our provincial health care system,” says Susan Green, Chair of the Aberdeen Health Foundation.
And Caitrin, she’s still excited. She can see great improvement already by following the doctor’s advice and pushing herself.
It turns out Caitrin and Dr. El-Tahan have something else in common. Not only did they both suffer ACL injuries while playing basketball, Caitrin wants to be a doctor. This has been a dream she’s had for some time, but since her surgery she’s even more convinced.
“Right from the first meeting to the day of the surgery, everyone from Dr. El-Tahan to the nurses was so helpful. They took the time to explain everything to me in detail. During the surgery, they told me everything that would happen next, what I could expect, what I would feel. I felt completely at ease. Believe it or not, I actually love going to the hospital, I feel very comfortable there. I really hope to have the opportunity to work with patients someday, to help others like they have helped me.”
You can further this excellence by donating to the Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Medical Equipment Endowment. Donate Now.