For most, being aware of your family health history is helpful in determining why an ache or pain or other life-limiting condition flares up. In Judy Rich’s case, however, her family health history threw her a curveball.
“I had a lot of pain for years in my feet and ankles,” Judy says. “I always thought it was just because so many people in my family were arthritic. So, I kind of just accepted that I would have to live with it.”
Judy, who is a cook in the kitchen at a senior care center and is on her feet as many as 10 hours a day, says she was in constant pain.
“Being on my feet that much, by the end of the day I could hardly walk,” says Judy, who lives in Whiting with her husband of 50 years, Tom. “I’d be in so much pain, but I didn’t think there was much I could do about it. I just took ibuprofen to try to manage it. I had pretty much resigned myself to the pain. And it got to the point where I decided I was going to have to look for another job or just retire.”
But before she began a job search, a client at the senior center encouraged Judy to schedule an appointment with UnityPoint Clinic Foot & Ankle Specialist Valerie Tallerico-Antonopoulos, DPM, FACFAS. Judy made an appointment early in 2019 with the hope of escaping the “Catch 22” of knowing she needed to be active to remain healthy and being in so much pain that the mere thought of activity was upsetting.
About Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos
In visiting with Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos and having a thorough exam, it became clear that her family history of arthritis had little to do with the pain she had lived with for years. Judy was diagnosed with a condition that caused the deterioration, significant thickening of her Achilles tendons, leading to repeated tears in both legs.
“It’s not like I had an accident that caused it or one thing that led to my tearing it,” Judy says. “It was done over and over and over again. Each time it would heal up and then eventually tear again. It was a big surprise for me to learn that’s what it was. At 68 years old, I thought an injury like that would be something a 20-year-old would get. I was really taken aback. I thought, ‘you have to be kidding me’.”
It was anything but a joke. But to be sure, Judy made an appointment with a podiatrist in Omaha. The diagnosis came back the same, but she didn’t feel the same connection with that provider as she did with Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos. When she and Tom returned from Omaha, she made the decision to have the surgery performed by Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos.
“She is so personable, and I felt very comfortable with her demeanor and expertise from the start,” Judy says of Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos. “I’ve really never been sick or required complicated surgery, so that was very reassuring for me and for my family. That makes a difference. I had full confidence in her.”
To accommodate a busy spring – which included a granddaughter graduating from college and her 50th wedding anniversary – Judy and Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos agreed to push surgery back to July 5. Judy’s left leg, which was the worse of the two, was operated on first. Recovery included wearing a cast and then a walking boot and a significant amount of physical therapy. In total, it was about 10 weeks from surgery until she felt like she had a spring back in her step.
“It took until I finally got back in my shoe and started working that I really realized what an improvement it was,” Judy says. “The pain was always an issue, but I was also very stiff in my ankles and my feet. After surgery I couldn’t believe how much more flexibility I had and there was no pain at all.”
Judy had surgery on her right leg in December. Her right leg was not as severe as her left, and she was able to undergo a more minimally invasive procedure which allowed for a speedier recovery time. Today, she is thankful that she made that initial appointment.
“Throughout this I kept thinking that nobody goes through such a complicated surgery at my age,” Judy says. “But at the same time, I guess my thought that there was no better time to have it done than when I was still pretty healthy. If I had chosen to do nothing, it was only a matter of time before everything started breaking down. I feel like I’ve used my extended warranty now. This has made a vast difference in my quality of life.”
Dr. Valerie Tallerico-Antonopoulos, DPM, FACFAS, offers a wide range of services for those with conditions impacting the foot and ankle, including office care, treatment and minor procedures, surgical care and reconstruction. She serves patients of all ages and treats common conditions like bunions, hammer toes, flat feet, and high arch feet, along with complete care for trauma of the foot and ankle, including fractures, sprains, Achilles ruptures, and more. Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos also provides wound care services.
To learn more about Dr. Tallerico-Antonopoulos and to view a video explaining her approach to serving patients, visit us online at unitypoint.org