Man's steps made possible by bone donor
Coshocton resident recovering after surgery removes dead ankle bone
With repeated bad luck through the years of twisting his ankle, the 56-year-old Coshocton man learned from Dr. Gregory Berlet, an orthopedic surgeon in Westerville, that his right talus bone had died because lack of blood flow.
"I twisted my ankle real bad in my younger days," he said. "I fell off the porch, hit the ground and rolled it. I knew it swelled because I had to hurry and get my boot off."
The last time he had twisted his ankle it continued to hurt and he knew something was wrong.
"It would wake me up in the middle of the night and I told my wife it felt like it was hurting clear into the bone ... and it actually was," he said.
Nichols was faced with three options to deal with the dead bone -- remove it completely and be left without a foot; replace the dead bone with artificial material which would wear out too fast because his activity level or receive a donor bone.
Enjoying nature, mushroom and wildlife hunting, and fishing, as well as approaching his 36-year mark with Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. as an electrical/instrument supervisor, meant receiving a donor bone was the clear option.
"They actually called it a fresh talus graft," said Tonya Nichols, Billy's wife. "You had to have someone die, and they had to keep this bone from getting diseased. ... It was a quick thing. You didn't have a lot of time ... to get him into surgery."
The wait on the donor list was a long two months.
"It was stressful because every time the phone would ring we thought it was them," Tonya said. "... You didn't know day to day when you were going to get the call."
Billy said the longer he was on the list the more nervous about work he became.
Doctors prepared the couple that once there was a donor, the course of action would be immediate, starting with blood work. What Billy wasn't prepared for was the flood of emotion that would come along with the call.
Billy was at work in his office when the call notifying him that they had a donor and what his next step would be.
"I hung up, sat down in my chair and it was hard knowing somebody had to die for me to walk," Billy said with emotion even today. "I was real shaky ... nervous .. and I called (my wife). After I talked to her, she kind of calmed me down."
After a drink of water, Billy starting filling out paperwork and getting his office reorganized for his extended leave.
On Feb. 24, Billy had his transplant.
"Everything went as planned; everything is healing," he said. "(The doctor) could tell we were taking good care of it."
Months later, Billy still takes medications to prevent infections, has daily exercises and therapy to gain strength and gets hooked up to a bone growth stimulator for 30 minutes a day at home. The machine goes over his ankle and helps the donor bone mend and grow into his own, Tonya said.
By 2011, Billy looks forward to getting back to his old routine.
"(Right now) I've been sitting in the wheelchair in the driveway talking to neighbors," he said.
Said Tonya: "It's enough to have a loss, but to know a part of (your loved one) is living in someone else, it kind of helps you deal with the loss ... knowing they're helping someone else."
More than 80 percent of Ohioans said they wanted to donated organs after death, according to the 2010 Anatomical Gift Family Survey, but only 52 percent have registered with the Ohio Donor Registry.
"The disparity between those who support donation and those who register means that 18 Americans die every day waiting for a life-saving organ transplant that didn't come," said Marilyn Pongonis, spokeswoman for Donate Life Ohio, the coalition of the state's organ, eye and tissue recovery agencies. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is the most widely known method for people to register as a donor.
"Even though I'm a donor, I never thought it would come back to me," Billy said. "You see things on TV where there's different people waiting for kidneys. Truthfully, when you get ready to go to the promised land, you don't need these body parts ... so why keep them?"