Danny Wahl-Back in the Hunt

Friday, March 16, 2018

As an avid hunter, Danny Wahl has spent countless hours in his tree stand. Unfortunately, August 29th, 2009 would be one time that would change everything. While checking his stand for the upcoming season, the stand didn’t hold, and Danny crashed to the ground feet first. Among other things, he sustained debilitating injuries to both his ankles including crushing his right ankle bone. Initially, his doctors told him he may not walk again. Lucky to have survived the fall, Danny counted his blessings; but soon he began to understand that his life may never be the same.

Danny’s ankle was first repaired with surgery in 2009, where screws were placed in his right ankle. After six long weeks in and out of the hospital, 12 weeks out of work, and months of physical therapy, Danny did his best to return to his life; but he was still in excruciating pain. The pain affected his job, where he spent most of his day on his feet. By the end of the day, he wasn’t sure if he could walk. It was painful to be on his feet all the time but, according to Danny, if he stopped it got worse. “My first step would bring me to my knees. I would go to family functions and have to stay moving the whole time. By the end of each day, I would have to get on my hands and knees and crawl to bed. Moving felt better, but the pain always got worse as the day went on. This went on for years, and eventually my right ankle deteriorated to bone on bone.”

Danny’s doctor recommended a fusion surgery for his right ankle, but with the concern of limiting his mobility, Danny passed on the surgery and decided to deal with the pain. After about 4 years, the doctor still felt that an ankle fusion was the best answer for Danny, which he passed on again. A year later, Danny decided he was ready and he agreed to the ankle fusion. However, at this point, the doctor talked him out of it because ankle replacement surgery was getting closer to being a viable option. The following year, Danny went back to see his doctor for his checkup, but the technology for the ankle replacement surgery was still not there yet. This time, Danny decided he was going to do something one way or another. He could no longer deal with the pain. He sought a second opinion from a different doctor that suggested a partial fusion. After x-rays, the doctor called Danny and recommended an ankle replacement.

Danny Wahl and Allison Kell, DPT during physical therapy

Danny was told that there had been a breakthrough in ankle replacement surgery, and his doctor felt he was a prime candidate at this point. “It was a scary proposition. The surgery was fairly new, and there was no guarantee that it would work. For me, the choice was clear. I was living in extraordinary pain, suffered from a lack of mobility and arthritis, and it was affecting everything I wanted to do. I’m an avid hunter - I need my mobility. I was ready to do something.”

The surgery went as planned, and Danny began physical therapy with Allison Kell, DPT and Derek Adelman, ATC, PTA shortly after. With an understanding that Danny came from a long history of ankle problems, his therapists knew it takes a long time for a patient to recover or to get back to normal.

“Before his ankle replacement surgery in 2017, if Danny was able to physically make it to his tree stand, he was afraid to take a shot towards any game because that first step was so painful. He was worried that if he was able to make it into the woods, he may not be able to make it back out on his own.” Allison Kell, DPT said, “His dream was to get back to hunting without pain.”

Allison said, “Danny challenged me to think outside the box. His primary goal was to get back into the woods, hike through rough terrain, all while carrying 30-50 lbs. He wanted to be able to get a deer, drag it out on his back, and do it all while walking on unstable surfaces. He pushed me to think creatively to modify therapy, but it was a team effort. Danny had to put in the work to get back to where he wanted to be.”

Danny working with his Physical Therapist to help with strength and stability.

“When it comes to patient care, I always ask what my patient may have issues with in their day to day life. What do they want to get back to? Or, what is their dream of something they want to be able to physically do? That is what we work towards; and we adjust or modify their treatment to accommodate that goal.”

Danny said, “Ali didn’t baby me, she pushed me. I appreciate that. I wanted to come in and work and not waste my time. When I had off days, and I didn’t feel like doing it, Ali would push me to do what I could. She would say when you feel too much fatigue, or pain, enough is enough. She knows your limits, but she pushes you where you need to go as well. Ali gave me exercises to do at home, as well as what we would do in the clinic. If she said do 20, I did 30; but she taught me not to overdo it either because too much can set you back too.”

Danny finished physical therapy September 5th, 2017 and took a dream trip Sept 7th to Colorado to hunt. Ali noted, “Danny was in a wheelchair after his initial accident in 2009. After his first surgery, he used a walker, then he went to a cane, and eventually progressed to walking without a device. He is now able to walk without a device, and without pain. He made a great recovery, and it is remarkable for him to have come from a chronic history like his, to walking over 30 miles in 10 days on his trip, without pain.”

Danny back to life and back in the hunt

“Now that I’m out of physical therapy,” said Danny, “I no longer need pain medication, and I’m on my feet every day. I walk a couple miles each day, and I use what I learned and apply it to my life, whether it’s going up hills or walking sideways on the pond bank. I have no pain in my ankles and no joint pain anymore. I had physical therapy at Mid America Rehab in 2009 after my accident, and again after this surgery, and my experience was great both times. I highly recommend Mid America Rehab, Ali, Derek, and the entire staff!”

Danny has a few words of advice from his experience. “Listen to your therapists: they are your life-line. Do what they say and you will see the results you want. The best result you can have is the ability to walk out and do what you want to do.”

“I tell people to never take anything for granted. I’ve been on a deer stand over a thousand times. The one time I didn’t wear my safety belt, it changed my life. Now, I always step on it to be sure it will hold first. Thanks to my doctors, and Mid America Rehab, I was able to get back to the hunt and back to life pain-free!”