Webb: More than Worth the Trip

Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy - Baltimore

Complex Reconstruction Surgery

Traveling 700 miles to be treated by a certain doctor at a certain hospital is not something you necessarily want to do, according to Webb. You do it because you have to.

He had to.

Despite his motives, the journey Webb took that led him to Mercy Medical Center’s Institute for Foot & Ankle Reconstruction and Dr. Clifford Jeng, was more than worth the effort in the end.

In March 2012, Webb, an executive at a software company based in Atlanta, suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia after running a half-marathon. Adding to the fracture was a congenital defect in the same leg which had resulted in a lifelong malformed fibula. It was a bad combination.

Webb was initially treated in his home state where his doctor placed him in a non-weight bearing boot for six months. But the bone didn’t completely heal. So he switched doctors. His new doctor recommended surgery to place a titanium rod through the bone in his leg to strengthen it and bring the bones together.  The surgery was performed in October 2012, and rather than relieve his leg issues, it exacerbated them.

“I thought something was wrong right after the surgery,” Webb noted. “And it was. Horribly wrong.”

So began the long journey that would lead him to Mercy. The surgery in Atlanta not only didn’t heal the stress fracture, it made matters worse. And there was still the issue with his fibula. He was in pain. His work suffered. He could barely walk.

Webb said he knew then if he were ever to get back to normal he would have to find another doctor, the right doctor, no matter where he was. Had to.

So he searched.

“What I was looking for by then,” Webb said,  “was the best foot and ankle doctor in the country.”

He found him at Mercy Medical Center.

It was 700 miles away.

It didn’t matter.

A 700-Mile Trip to Mercy

“I did my research,” Webb noted. “I called an old roommate who’s a doctor and spoke with my parents in Baltimore and did some searching on my own. It came down to two doctors, one in New York and the other in Baltimore. For a lot of reasons, Baltimore won.”

Based on his research and recommendations, Webb contacted Dr. Clifford Jeng, an attending orthopedic surgeon at The Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy. Dr. Jeng has a reputation for excellence in treating challenging foot and ankle disorders. Webb called his office and left a message.

“Dr. Jeng called me back on a Saturday morning,” he said. “This is a world-class physician and he’s calling on a Saturday morning. I was impressed.”

It was only the beginning. Dr. Jeng told Webb to come to Baltimore to see him, but made no promises. “I think he knew what a dire situation you’d have to be in to go that far to see a doctor,” Webb said.

In January 2013 Webb made his initial long journey north to Baltimore. At the end of his first visit, Dr. Jeng told him simply “you need big surgery. And I need to do it.”

And so he did.

A Journey with Dr. Jeng

After consulting with a team of colleagues and then Webb, Dr. Jeng  developed a treatment plan. It involved another surgery Dr. Jeng would perform in April. It was complicated. A big surgery. It took five and one-half hours. It involved first removing the titanium rod from Webb’s leg, and performing an osteotomy (cutting of the bone) on his tibia, another procedure on his heel, and connecting a cadaver bone to his fibula. And that was just the start. Seven pins were also inserted through Webb’s leg leaving 11 exposed pin sites. His leg was then encased in a metal cage, a device Webb called “an erector set." He would wear it for three months.

“It was at that point, after the surgery, that I knew I was in the hands of a special doctor,” Webb said. “It was the post-surgical care that really separated Dr. Jeng. His consummate care and concern was just amazing.”

Because the pin sites on his leg were required to be exposed, they posed an infection risk. For the first three months after the surgery, Webb did not make the long journey to Baltimore, instead he simply made a journey with Dr. Jeng through email and phone calls.

“I would take pictures of the pin sites and e-mail them to Dr. Jeng if I thought they were possibly infected,” Webb said. “We had a constant dialogue, almost daily. We must have emailed back and forth more than 50 times in those three months, and we’d talk as well. He’d call me on his mobile phone, sometimes on weekends to check on me.”

The best example of how Dr. Jeng exceeded any expectation Webb had for a physician came after he became concerned that he might be taking up too much of the doctor’s time. “I stopped contacting him at one point because I thought, this is a very busy doctor and he has other patients besides me,” Webb said. “After awhile Dr. Jeng contacted me and said ‘are you ok? I haven’t heard from you.’  It was amazing. You can’t imagine a better doctor. His level of care and concern was off the charts. He’s easily the best doctor I’ve ever had.”

"Something Special" About the Care at Mercy

After three months, Webb again made the trip to Baltimore to have a surgical procedure to have the frame removed from his leg. Dr. Jeng replaced it with a walking boot which Webb then wore for three months. In September 2013 he made his final journey to see Dr. Jeng to have the boot removed. It was bittersweet.

"I believe that if I hadn’t found Dr. Jeng  I would not have ever walked properly again,” he said. “Maybe there’s another doctor who could have done the medical portion, but not with the care and concern that Dr. Jeng did. He is a tremendous combination: a world-class surgeon and a caring, concerned, medical professional.”

By the Fall of 2013, Webb, who in his darkest moments had shifted his thinking from ‘will I ever run again’ to ‘will I ever walk again’ was in his backyard tossing a football with his son.  

It had been worth the trip.

“Everything about Mercy was fantastic,” Webb said. “Every single nurse we met, Dr. Jeng’s office staff, everyone was so concerned and so compassionate. I don’t know what they’re doing differently at Mercy but there is something very special about it. I would walk from Atlanta to Mercy for treatment. It was that good an experience. It was incredible.”

Webb's Treatment Team