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Fighting way back after injury

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Injuries are often an unavoidable part of being active. With so many different ways to be injured, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what needs to be diagnosed and treated. This is especially true with leg pain as it could be anything from shin splints, stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, or as serious as an ACL tear. 

Wyatt Irwin, a 2021 Green Ridge High School graduate, suffered an uncommon leg injury during a basketball game in December 2020. 

“I was driving to the basket for a layup, and an opposing player’s knee struck my thigh,” Irwin said. “My leg swelled to the size of a basketball, and I ended up in the Bothwell Emergency Department that night.”

Dr. Evan Stout with Bothwell Orthopedics & Sports Medicine diagnosed Irwin with compartment syndrome, a rare, serious and commonly overlooked condition that occurs when too much pressure builds up within and between muscles. Blood flow is blocked by swelling, causing restricted blood flow to muscles, nerves or blood vessels. 

“Compartment syndrome is a serious emergency and requires an immediate surgery called a fasciotomy,” Dr. Stout said. “If left untreated, compartment syndrome will lead to permanent damage or potentially loss of limb or life.”

A fasciotomy is a limb-saving surgical procedure where the tissue that surrounds the area is cut open to relieve pressure and swelling in a compartment of the body. Irwin had to have not one but three fasciotomies for his injury. 

The procedures were done Dec. 16, 2020, at Bothwell Regional Health Center, and Irwin was hospitalized for one week. The diagnosis and subsequent surgeries were devastating for Irwin as he was unable to finish his senior year basketball season and had no guarantee he could participate in the spring track season. 

“I was told I probably wouldn’t be able to heal in time to compete for the March track season,” Irwin said. “That’s when I decided to get to work.” 

Following the procedure, Irwin was determined to compete in his last high school track season. He placed his entire focus on rehab and physical therapy. Irwin recuperated with physical therapy at Bothwell PEAK Sport and Spine and at home until track began.

“This wasn’t how we imagined Wyatt would spend his off time between basketball and track, but Dr. Stout made us feel at ease about the procedures and physical therapy,” said Lisa Irwin, Wyatt’s mother.

Wyatt trained and worked hard to be ready for track. While he was thankful for the opportunity to participate in track, he never imagined he would go on to not only set but break the Green Ridge High School high jump record with a jump of 6’ 5 ¾,” and win first place in conference, districts, sectionals and state. His final jump as a 5’ 7” senior was 6’ 7” for the win. 

Although there is no way to actually prevent compartment syndrome, seeking medical care immediately is key. It normally develops a few hours after a serious injury and in most cases, immediate surgery is required to reduce the compartment pressure. Symptoms include a persistent deep ache in the injured area, pain that seems greater than expected, numbness, pins-and-needles or electricity-like pain and swelling, tightness and bruising. 

While Irwin cruises around in his 1994 Jeep Wrangler and prepares to enter State Fair Community College later this month with a goal of becoming a firefighter, he has a full appreciation for the opportunity he received to not only participate in his senior year of track, but finish at the top of his sport.

“Winning state was a fantastic way to end my senior year,” he said. “I’m grateful for the care I received from Dr. Stout and at Bothwell that made it possible.”

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