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Paralympian Gets Renewed Lease on Competition with Knee Replacement


University of Utah Health Orthopedic Surgeons Help Athlete Continue His Olympic Dream

After 8 weeks in the hospital, 13 operations, and 6 months of bed rest, the efforts to save Jeff Sena's leg were all in vain. In April 1991, the medical team conceded that amputation was the only option. Three months later, Jeff was back on crutches with his prosthetic leg.

As a new amputee, he was open to anything that would help him get back to a normal life. His friend had an idea -- archery.

"He kept bugging me, so I decided I'll just go do it one time and maybe he'll shut up and leave me alone about it," Jeff laughed.

His first attempt was on a Tuesday, he bought a bow that Friday and competed in his first competition 45 days later. In the first competition, he scored a 444 out of 450 total points.

Jeff's nearly perfect scores caught the attention of Jeff Fabry, a four-time archery Olympian and medalist and coach. Fabry noticed Jeff's natural ability and believed that with some professional coaching he could improve his scores and be a contender in the World Archery Championships and even qualify for the Paralympics.

Eighteen months later with Fabry as his archery coach, Jeff made the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team. In 2013, he set the individual 50-meter world record. In 2014, he and his team set the three-man team world record.

Jeff traveled the world and United States competing in archery competitions, including competing in the Olympic trials in hopes to qualify for the London and Rio games. Although he didn't qualify, his demanding schedule started to takes its toll and old injuries started to flare up.

Multiple surgeries on his good knee as a kid, plus the wear and tear of only using one leg for more than 25 years was causing Jeff major knee pain. On October 9, 2017, Jeff was participating in another archery competition when the pain was so intense that he almost had to leave in the middle of the match.

He began having problems balancing on one leg. "I couldn't even pull my own arrows," he said. "I was trying to focus on shooting, but the pain was too much and they give you drug tests so I couldn't take anything for the pain."

He had put off a knee replacement for a long time, but knew it couldn't wait any longer. He met with orthopedic surgeons in California and Oregon to discuss the procedure, but didn't like what they had to say so he continued to delay the operation.

"They told me I'd have to go to a convalescent home after my surgery," he said. "I was stressing out [and] a mess, because I was so worried about the recovery with only one leg that I couldn't walk on."

After overcoming an amputated leg, permanent back pain and limited movement in his arms due to an industrial accident in the early nineties, Jeff was not ready to give up his mobility and his archery career just yet.

He didn't feel good about any of his options so he decided to call the United States Olympic Committee for a recommendation. They sent him to University of Utah Health, an academic medical center in the Olympic medical network.

Jeff met with Dr. Chris Peters, an orthopedic surgeon at U of U Health, and was dubious when Dr. Peters was opposite of what he had heard from all the other doctors. Peters told Jeff not to worry about being a convalescent and that his recovery would be fine.

Earlier conversations about convalescence after surgery lingered. He was so worried that he kept calling Peters every week before surgery to ask about recovery and possible convalescent homes just in case things didn't go as planned. Every time he called, Peters and his health care team reassured Jeff that it wasn't necessary.

Finally, Jeff traveled to Salt Lake City and underwent a right total knee arthroplasty at U of U Health. Just as Peters promised, the procedure went perfectly, and Jeff was using his walker the same day to use the restroom and get around.

"Everyone else made it sound like it was going to be so hard, but U of U Health was totally different," Jeff said. I should have done this a long time ago."

Dr. Peters attributes Jeff's quick recovery to his positive attitude. "After the operation, he brought tremendous energy and focus to getting better," he said. "When I saw him six weeks after the operation, he was doing great and already had his competitive schedule mapped out for the next six months."

Following surgery, Jeff met with a physical therapist, Barbara Fink, DPT, OCS, at the Orthopaedic center at U of U Health three times a week for one month.

Dr. Fink said, "Jeff was incredible to work with. He was highly motivated and compliant, which was why his knee progressed so quickly."

"Physical therapy went extremely well," Jeff said. "My leg was almost perfectly straight on the first day. but we worked on [bending] and strengthening it every day."

Four days after physical therapy ended, Jeff competed in three archery competitions within a three-day period. He was able to balance and pull his own arrows with no problems.

It seems like Jeff did it on his own, but he credits his successful comeback to his dependable health care team, and more importantly, his family who was always behind the scenes. "They never treated me differently, and they were always there telling me I could do it."

Jeff has a sober and honest reflection on his life. "I can sit here and wish my leg back or I can move on with life and enjoy what I have," he said. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, Jeff stays busy, always preparing for his next archery competition. Jeff is on the U.S. Paralympic Archery team and hopes to qualify for his first Olympics in 2020.