After crippling crash, Manchester teacher gets her groove back thanks to 3D-printed ankle bone

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Craig Michaud, Dr. Selene Parekh, and Tara Michaud prior to surgery at Duke Hospital in Durham, NC.

MANCHESTER, NH – Determination, a skilled North Carolina surgeon and a 3D printer was all it took to ensure Tara Michaud’s right foot would not be amputated due to severe injuries she suffered in a 2015 car crash.

Michaud, 46, of Nashua said, to her knowledge, she is the first person in New Hampshire to have the talus — the bone that makes up the lower part of the ankle joint and allows a foot to move up and down — replaced with a 3D printed implant.

Five different doctors told Michaud her right foot should be amputated because there was nothing they could do to repair it.

“I was not willing to do that,” she said.   “I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”

An athlete her entire life – she was training for the Boston  Marathon at the time of the crash — she was determined to avoid that life-altering surgery.

The 3D printed talus is in gold with Tara’s cadence ankle on top in white.

The accident happened in September 2015.  She and her husband were returning from a concert when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree off the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.

It took rescuers about an hour to cut the wreckage away to free her.  The crash left her with broken bones in both legs requiring her to be medflighted to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

There she underwent five surgeries over three days, including skin grafts to her ankle to replace skin that was torn off in the crash.

When she was released, it was with an external fixation device attached to her leg to keep her fractured ankle bones stable and in alignment.

Before and after: Memorial High School Teacher Tara Michaud standing next to the wreckage. She was sitting on that side of the car when the accident happened. Courtesy Photo

“I had a cage around my ankle that I had to wear for about four months,” she said.

She was transferred to Northeast Rehabilitation at the Elliot Hospital, where she remained for four months.

That was followed by months of home care with occupational and physical therapy a daily routine.

“I had to relearn how to walk,” said Michaud, 46, of Nashua.

In September 2016, a year after the crash, she returned to her job at Manchester Memorial High School where she teaches English to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Therapy is the norm to this day.

In 2018, three years after the accident, Michaud saw another teacher wearing a boot on his foot.  She asked what happened and he told her he had an ankle replacement.  He gave her his doctor’s name and she quickly made an appointment to see Dr. N. Jake Summers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Orthopaedics in Bedford.

Post-surgery X-ray of Tara’s ankle.

After a consultation and CT scan, Summers told her he couldn’t do it because the talus was broken in two places.

“I was devastated,” Michaud said.

But then Summers told her that he had been at a conference where a doctor gave a talk about replacing the talus.   He couldn’t remember the physician’s name but that was all Michaud needed.

As her mother drove her home, Michaud googled doctor and talus replacement and came upon Dr. Selene Parekh, an orthopaedic surgeon at North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic and Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.

It was August 2018 when she called the doctor’s office and asked if she could come down for a consultation.     They said to come down the following week.  Michaud couldn’t do that.   She had used up all her sick time from being out for a year so she asked if they could make it on Veteran’s Day.  They agreed.

The next hurdle was getting the OK from her insurance plan.  There are doctors in Boston, she was told, but she explained there was no one in all of New England doing that 3D implant surgery.  She had to go to five more consultations with doctors in Boston before the insurance company gave the OK.

Tara Michaud is back in action, thanks to a 3D-printer and a pioneering surgeon. Courtesy Photo

In North Carolina, a 3D scan was done of her left ankle from which a mirror 3D implant was made for her right ankle.  On Feb. 28, 2019, Michaud had her ankle replaced and the 3D talus implanted.

It took about 12 weeks for her to recover, again having to learn how to rewalk.

Running a marathon is no longer an option, she said, but her therapist thinks doing a marathon on an elliptical is doable.

Michaud is aiming to do that next April,  in lieu of the Boston Marathon.

“My therapist says it is very obtainable,” she said.

She is now part of a study of people who have talus implants.  Because it is so new, she said they don’t know how long it will last or when it will need to be replaced.

“It probably will have to be when I am 60 or 70,” she said.

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pat-grossmith

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.