Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Joint operation for a new run at life

Pioneering ankle surgery gives father of two a sporting chance.

Brett Maber can run around with his children, Maclaren (left) and Maddison, after his ankle replacement.  Photo / Christine Cornege
Brett Maber can run around with his children, Maclaren (left) and Maddison, after his ankle replacement. Photo / Christine Cornege

Brett Maber has set his sights on the gruelling Coast to Coast race, thanks to pioneering surgery in the United States to replace his badly damaged right ankle.

The 36-year-old, who represented Waikato secondary schools in triathlons, hobbled for years after breaking the ankle at the age 18 during a game of indoor cricket.

Three operations in New Zealand could not repair the cartilage.

Mr Maber was in constant pain, walked with a limp, had a severely underdeveloped calf muscle, suffered lower back pain, and couldn't keep up with his children, 3 and 5.

When specialists told him fusing the joint was the only way to get rid of the pain, Mr Maber decided he was too young to give up his active lifestyle.

The national sales manager for Power Farming in Morrinsville began researching other alternatives and last year found the Inbone Wright implant.

In this procedure, a rod is drilled up into the bottom of the shin bone and connected to a prosthetic implant.

The replacements are aimed at elderly or obese patients whose ankles have worn out.

Mr Maber underwent the surgery - costing US$30,000 ($36,900) a day - at the University Foot and Ankle Institute in Los Angeles. He then spent two weeks in a cast before he could fly home.

Five months later, Mr Maber has doubled the range of movement in his ankle, is starting to develop a calf muscle and is meeting the goals set by his American surgeon, Justin Franson.

Best of all, he is largely pain-free.

"That constant, grinding, arthritic pain is just gone. Some days it is awesome, just mind-blowing, and other days it's a bit sore if I overdo it."

Instead of painkillers every day, he now needs one only occasionally if the ankle is overworked.

"I go to the gym now. I can go on a cross-trainer. I was never able to do that. Biking is cool, straight back into biking with no ankle pain at all. And I can mow the lawns.

"I know my All Black career is over," he joked. "But for me, at the end of the day it was about having a quality of life."

One goal is to compete in the South Island Coast to Coast multisport race as a team entry with his wife, Jo, who will do the running, leaving him to do the cycling and kayaking.

"I won't be doing the mountain run but she's a better runner than I am anyway. There's other things ... I want to be able to go on father and son tramps and coach [son] Maclaren's rugby team."

- NZ Herald

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