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Falls Church Doctor Pioneers Total Ankle Replacement Surgery

KAREN NAVARRO (RIGHT) TAKES AN AT BAT during a softball game after receiving a total ankle replacement from Falls Church’s Dr. Steven Neufeld. She said that the procedure made her ankle feel as good as it did prior to when she sprained it. (Photo: Courtesy of Karen Navarro)
KAREN NAVARRO (RIGHT) TAKES AN AT BAT during a softball game after receiving a total ankle replacement from Falls Church’s Dr. Steven Neufeld. She said that the procedure made her ankle feel as good as it did prior to when she sprained it. (Photo: Courtesy of Karen Navarro)

by Matthew Delaney

Total ankle replacements have come to the forefront of medical procedures thanks to the Little City’s resident innovator Dr. Steven Neufeld and his practice, the Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Center.

Prior to total ankle replacements, surgery options for deteriorating ankles were ankle fusions, where the bones were welded together to compensate for the loss of cartilage that comes from ankle arthritis.

The procedure successfully prevented the painful bone-on-bone contact that stems from a lack of cartilage. However, despite possessing a pain-free ankle, patients would be encumbered by a severely limited range of motion for the joint, often resulting in complete stiffness.

Today, Neufeld is giving his patients the best of both worlds with his ankle replacement technology.

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Although Neufeld denies he’s solely responsible for the advent of total ankle replacements, he does recognize his educational contributions about the procedure have equipped medical staffs in and out of the area with knowledge that they were previously without.

“I pioneered the program at INOVA for total ankle replacements,” Neufeld said.

“Teaching, research and training across the spectrum [of medical professionals] so nurses, physical therapists, and athletic trainers.

“I put together a team – the first one in the country, to my knowledge – that [offers] a multidisciplinary approach to treat ankle arthritis.”

Ankle replacements are relatively new compared to commonly replaced joints in the knees and hips. That newness may sway some people away from the getting the procedure, but fear not.

Rigorous research, instruction, and most importantly, approval from the FDA were required before ankle replacements were permitted for practice on patients. With that in mind, any hesitancy about getting the procedure is medically unfounded.

“It’s not experimental,” Neufeld added. “With some of my patients, they wake up after surgery the very next day and their horrible ankle pain is gone.”

Look no further than Karen Navarro, one of Neufeld’s patients. A competitive softball player who had suffered from degrees of ankle pain since she was 25, Navarro, now 54, reached her breaking point when the ailment prevented her from performing everyday tasks.

Although she was reluctant to get the fusion treatment, she was also willing to explore whatever option enabled her active lifestyle.

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“I didn’t want to sit around the rest of my life in pain; I wanted to get out and do stuff,” Navarro said. “When I went to the doctor and was told about this procedure, I signed up to do it right away.”

The procedure went swimmingly. Navarro was warned about lingering pain from the surgery, but she felt it paled in comparison to the daily daggers of her untreated ankle.

She even admitted the procedure made her ankle feel as good as it did prior to the initial sprain that set her on this painful path during her twenties and inspired her to share her story with others.

“A friend called me and I told her all about my experience. She went and had the exact same surgery,” Navarro said.

“I think very highly of the doctors and the hospital. The entire procedure was just wonderful.”

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