A Hunting Story

Réjean was on a hunting trip with his brother in the north of Abitibi—a trip they’d made every fall for the last 30 years. They were driving through the forest in a four-wheeler when suddenly they hit very dense vegetation, forcing them to stop to clear themselves a path. They got to work, rifles slung over their shoulders. Suddenly, a branch caught Réjean’s brother’s rifle—and it fired.

What followed was a sight Réjean will never forget: his ankle had been blown open and blood was gushing out. There was too much of it and it was flowing too fast, he couldn’t help thinking.

Listen to Réjean’s Story

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“When I fell, my head started spinning. I thought about how much time I would need to get to the nearest hospital, about all the blood I was losing. I was sure I wasn’t going to make it.”

The clock was ticking: Réjean and his brother were 2.5 hours away from the closest hospital. Fortunately, they had the presence of mind to make a tourniquet to slow the hemorrhaging.

“My leg was in a terrible state, because moose bullets are designed to expand as soon as they hit their target and to blast through everything that gets in their way.”

After a long journey in the 4-wheeler and then in a truck, they finally joined up with an ambulance. The driver had been alerted by the gamekeeper and was preparing to take Réjean to the nearest hospital. There, he underwent an initial “clean-up” operation, which was mainly meant to allow the doctors to assess the injury, stop the bleeding and minimize the risk of infection.

The next day, Réjean was transferred to a hospital in Brossard, closer to his home, but the level of treatment he needed was beyond the expertise of the surgeons on site: in addition to his ankle, his fibula and part of his tibia were also shattered.

It was at the Montreal General Hospital that Réjean met Dr. Mitchell Bernstein, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in bone regrowth.

Yes, you read that correctly. Dr. Bernstein grows bones.

“He explained that I had two options. Either they could amputate part of my leg or I could embark on what he called a ‘project.’ By that, he meant a series of operations in which they would reconstruct everything that was broken. I knew the journey wouldn’t be easy, but if it could give me a chance to keep my leg, I had to try. I said yes to the project!”

Several operations followed. Dr. Bernstein also relied on the expertise of Dr. Stéphanie Thibodeau, a specialist in plastic reconstructive surgery, to rebuild Réjean’s ankle using a flap of skin and ultra-precise microsurgery techniques. Using the Ilizarov method, Dr. Bernstein was then able to insert a complex device that would be kept in place for a few months while the bone formed in the empty space.

“They reconstructed my ankle and made the 7 cm of missing bone in my leg grow back. The process was pretty long; for three months, I had to tighten the screws on the external fixators, always in a precise order.”

Every day, the bone grew roughly one millimetre. After a few months, they were able to take out the metal device. Since then, Réjean has been walking – with a cane, but most importantly, with both legs.

“I had a choice and I chose to go with Dr. Bernstein’s plan. And today, I don’t regret it at all.”

The Montreal General Hospital is a centre specializing in traumatology and orthopedics. It has the country’s only specialized program for bone regrowth and limb deformity correction. To support the team’s work and to make it possible for them to continue offering care to the whole community, please click here:

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