Back on his feet

Bruce Higbee

Seemingly with no recourse, Bruce Higbee was just days away from having his leg amputated. But on a late-night call from his surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Balazsy, who was reviewing his case again, Bruce learned of a final attempt to heal his injury and save the leg.

"They had the surgery scheduled and were ready to go," says Bruce, who had not walked for more than 17 months. "Dr. Balazsy saved my leg. He didn't give up on me."

X-ray More than a year ago, Bruce suffered a gruesome and traumatic leg injury while out of town on a cross-state business trip. He fell off a truck and suffered a major break to the tibia and fibula. 

Following emergency care, he asked to be transferred to McLaren Macomb, closer to his home in Mount Clemens, and placed under the care of Dr. Balazsy, an orthopedic and trauma surgeon who successfully treated Bruce years prior.

"There were some issues with the care Bruce initially received after his injury," Dr. Balazsy said. "This caused him some pain, and infections created further complications."
x-ray of rods in leg

While battling a difficult infection, Dr. Balazsy replaced the plates, screws and rod implants in Bruce's leg but he still faced an uphill road to recovery. He was still not able to walk, now 17 months after the injury.

Despite all efforts, complications from the infections still kept the break from healing. An amputation was scheduled.

Just days before the surgery, Dr. Balazsy was out of town. Bringing his work with him, he found some time late one evening to review Bruce's X-rays.

"This was not your standard bone break," Dr. Balazsy said. "The infection made mending the bones extremely difficult. But my thinking was if we approach the injury with an external fixator, while it may be big and obtrusive, it will hold the break in place long enough to heal."

External fixation allows the bones to be completely immobilized, providing control and stability, keeping the implants from shifting from outside the body while allowing Dr. Balazsy to treat the infection.

Dr. Balazsy

Dr. Balazsy didn't wait. He called Bruce right away-around midnight with the next call going to the hospital, changing the nature of the surgery. 

"This wasn't a guarantee," Dr. Balazsy said, "but we were going to try everything possible."

When Bruce woke up post-op, he saw a smile on Dr. Balazsy's face.

"He reached out with a high-five and said, "˜We got it,'" Bruce said. "He tried everything humanly possible and he eventually conquered it. He saved my leg, but he also saved my freedom."

Having been in a wheelchair since the accident 20 months ago, thoughts crept in his mind wondering if he was ever going to walk again.

Five hours after waking up, with the help of McLaren Macomb physical therapists, Bruce took his first steps in almost two years.

Keeping up with his physical therapy, Bruce is now walking under his own power, unassisted.

"We were both pretty discouraged for a while, but he never gave up," he said. "He's not like any other doctor I've ever met."