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Patient Stories

Trusting Tonya Dixon, MD: Growth and Gratitude After Tibia and Fibula Fracture

Jul. 22, 2021

One (literal) step can change everything — and it did for UC Health emergency medicine physician Sanjay Shewakramani, MD.

Sanjay Shewakramani, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at UC Health’s West Chester Hospital and associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, was born in Mumbai, India, and immigrated with his sister and parents to Boston, Massachusetts, when he was just 2 years old. After graduating from high school, he attended Boston University where he pursued a combined seven-year BA/MD program, and then went on to complete his residency in emergency medicine at the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency Program. After he graduated in 2007, he went on to practice medicine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Washington, DC, before he finally landed in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2014.

Since 2014, Dr. Shewakramani, or “Dr. Sanjay” as he is called by his patients and colleagues, has been caring for patients at their most vulnerable state in the West Chester Hospital Emergency Department.

Pursuit of Happiness

The average day for an emergency medicine physician is anything but slow — and Dr. Sanjay’s life outside of the emergency room isn’t either.

He keeps himself busy by learning different languages (currently Spanish), reflective writing on topics such as medicine and healthcare, developing leadership skills, foreign travel and spirituality.

In 2017, he was looking for something more. In a pursuit of self-improvement, he wanted to achieve happiness. That’s when he began his fitness journey. 

“That’s what led me to by fitness coach — Luke Cousineau,” Dr. Sanjay explained. “Together, we founded Revive Strength & Wellness in 2020, a personal fitness coaching center located in Oakley, a neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati.”

Dr. Sanjay had never been particularly interested in business before, but through his reading and networking with other business owners, he wanted to create a place where others could also grow and achieve happiness.

“I’m proud to say that we’ve been successful in achieving that,” Dr. Sanjay said.

Toes Pointing to Three O’clock

Earlier this year, Dr. Sanjay’s life as an emergency medicine physician, administrator, faculty member at the UC College of Medicine and an entrepreneur came to a roaring halt.

In March 2021, he took a small getaway trip with some friends to New Orleans, Louisiana. After enjoying an evening in the hot tub, he climbed out and stepped onto the slick pavement.

“When my leg slipped, I fell down,” Dr. Sanjay recalled. “It happened really quickly, and I initially thought I sprained my ankle, until I looked down and noticed that my toes were pointing to three o’clock.”

He knew his injury was significant.

On the Other Side

Being a physician and embracing discomfort for the last several years created a unique experience for Dr. Sanjay as he was now in his patients’ shoes, so to speak.

He looked as his own foot as if it was one of his patient’s and immediately knew what had to be done. With endorphins running high, he realigned his ankle as close to normal alignment as possible.

“My girlfriend was horrified,” Dr. Sanjay said as he laughed.

Remaining calm, he continued to hold his ankle into place while he and his friends could figure out where the best nearby hospital was located.

While sitting with his injured ankle elevated over his knee, he started to get upset thinking about how badly he had actually injured himself and the upcoming events wouldn’t be able to participate in.

But he quickly began to reflect on the books he had read about physicians being “on the other side.” Oddly enough, he started looking forward to the recovery process.

“I really got to experience what it was like to be a patient. To understand the process, the feelings, frustrations and, hopefully, the successes,” he said.

“At that point, I chose to look at this as a time of growth.”

Tibia, Fibula and Ankle Fracture

After consulting with a friend who lived in New Orleans and a couple of his UC Health orthopaedic colleagues, Dr. Sanjay’s friends took him to a nearby medical center that they all felt would set him up for the best possible outcome until he was able to get back to Cincinnati.

“My first surgery in New Orleans was to have an external fixator placed to stabilize the fractures in my leg,” said Dr. Sanjay.

An external fixator is a device with metal pins or screws that hold broken bones in place using small incisions through the skin and muscle, and into the bone.

Dr. Sanjay recalled that he had severe swelling and was at high risk of compartment syndrome which prevented him from being able to receive a nerve block to prevent pain with the external fixator in place.

Compartment syndrome occurs when there is a major injury within a group, or “compartment,” of muscles, blood vessels and nerves. The injury itself can lead to excessive pressure inside the compartment, causing damage to the muscle or other surrounding tissues, pain beyond what is expected for the type of injury and/or loss of feeling or numbness, to name a few.

“I could feel the pain and noticed when it became severe,” Dr. Sanjay said. “Learning to notice the pain and not be upset with it was a huge challenge for me and helped me tremendously throughout the process.”

Empathetic Orthopaedic Expert

The day after his external fixator surgery in New Orleans, he flew back to Cincinnati.

On March 25, 2021, Dr. Sanjay was immediately referred to Tonya L. Dixon, MD, UC Health orthopaedic surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the UC College of Medicine.

Dr. Dixon is the only female African American orthopaedic surgeon in Cincinnati, and is fellowship-trained, meaning she has received the highest level of training that a physician can obtain in order to subspecialize in the surgical and nonsurgical treatment of the foot and ankle.

Prior to his injury, Dr. Sanjay and Dr. Dixon had exchanged a few work-related phone calls but had never met in person. That didn’t matter.

“Dr. Dixon’s caring nature would come through in the way she would talk about patients over the phone,” Dr. Sanjay said. “She takes full responsibility for her patients and is highly knowledgeable. To say I was confident in my choice of Dr. Dixon would be an understatement.”

In order to reconstruct Dr. Sanjay’s entire lower leg and ankle, Dr. Dixon performed an open reduction and internal fixation by creating four incisions and inserted three plates and 17 screws into his tibia and fibula.

“Dr. Sanjay’s injury is complex because he damaged the largest weight-bearing part of the ankle,” Dr. Dixon explained. “This injury is often initially fixed by an orthopaedic surgeon, but then the care is taken over by a trauma surgeon or foot and ankle surgeon who has the appropriate skill set to perform the definitive surgery.”

Prior to and immediately after surgery, Dr. Dixon also made sure to update Dr. Sanjay’s mom and girlfriend — both were anxiously waiting.

“It’s clear Dr. Dixon would do that for anybody and their loved ones,” Dr. Sanjay said. “While this unfortunate event happened, the entire process with UC Health Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine has been incredible.”

Stepping Back to Move Forward

Although Dr. Sanjay has been on medical leave since his injury, he made a commitment to use his downtime to focus on two things specifically: growth and gratitude.

“I saw the break (pun intended) as a chance to spend my time trying or learning something new,” explained Dr. Sanjay. “I knew this would give me the best chance at a steady emotional recovery.”

A Growth Mindset

To ensure he had a positive start to his days, Dr. Sanjay created new habits to get stronger each day — in body and mind.

“Today is Day 71 in a row of learning Spanish,” he said. “I have also been practicing creative writing and making time to exercise.”

Dr. Sanjay has read eight books throughout his recovery on topics ranging from writing skills, history, leadership, Buddhism, business and a few fiction. Additionally, his business partner, Luke, continues to write at-home strengthening programs for him so he can work out his upper body.

Though he hasn’t been able to work clinically yet, Dr. Sanjay continues to work administratively at West Chester Hospital, focusing on performance improvement as he and colleagues improve their “already excellent” patient care.

Gratitude for Everything He Already Had

In addition to creative writing, Dr. Sanjay carves time out of his day to focus on what he has been grateful for over the past several months.

“I journal constantly about the help I’ve received,” he said.

As any mother would, Dr. Sanjay’s mom flew in from Boston to help with anything she could. Additionally, his friends would help by bringing over food, but more importantly, they just brought themselves, their company.

“I will forever be indebted to my family and friends who helped me get through this,” Dr. Sanjay said. “I didn’t realize how much support I had until I really needed it.”

Patience Being A Patient

Today, Dr. Sanjay is nearly four months out from his reconstructive surgery with Dr. Dixon. In May 2021, he took his first steps since his injury and started his strenuous physical therapy program.

“Recovery has been great,” said Dr. Sanjay. “I do my physical therapy daily and am really aiming to be the best person I can be — in body and mind.”

The entire recovery period will be about one year until Dr. Sanjay is anticipated to be fully recovered, but he explained that he is “ready for the fight” and is allowing himself to be more patient with the entire process.

“Dr. Sanjay’s recovery has been right on course,” Dr. Dixon explained. “He has been a great patient because he did everything correctly and didn’t rush things. I tell patients it is a yearlong recovery to feel at their ‘new normal’ after their injury.”

One of the first things Dr. Sanjay hopes to do post-recovery is to attend a European hiking trip in 2022, which Dr. Dixon has full confidence he will be able to do.

“I have received such incredible care from Dr. Dixon, not because I’m a physician but because I’m a person,” Dr. Sanjay said. “Without question, I would send my closest family members to UC Health. There is no other place I’d rather go.”

To learn more about UC Health Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine call 513-475-8690 to schedule an appointment.