Two days after completing my first ever competitive 10k run — in a cracking time of 46 minutes and 38 seconds, age 39 — I feel it’s time to finally talk about the amazing surgeon who got me back to where I am now.
Just over six years ago I first visited Jonathan Bell at Wimbledon Clinics on the advice of my osteopath, John Harris. I was struggling with a knee that had been badly damaged in a cycling accident and subsequently mishandled by the NHS. I had made a hole in the flesh just above the kneecap after falling on to gravel from my road bike one summer evening, and the hospital in South London that I was ambulanced to had operated to clean out the wound and ensure my knee was structurally sound.
All good so far, only the surgeon left swabs in the wound that should have been removed two days after my operation. A week later, with a severe infection and several visits to A&E later, they finally removed the swabs and left a hole so big that my knee had to be braced straight for eight weeks in order for it to heal from the inside out. When the brace was finally taken off, the orthopaedic surgeon in charge of my case told me physiotherapy was unnecessary and I should just ‘get back on my bike’. You can only imagine the subsequent months of sheer hell I went through with a leg that couldn’t and didn’t want to work.
Fast forward a few months and the ski season looms. I want to go skiing but my knee hurts just walking. The hospital made such a mess of my knee I don’t even trust that it is structurally sound any more. So I head to Wimbledon Clinics.
From the moment I walked in, Jonathan Bell entirely changed my faith in knee surgeons. He took the time to talk to me about my lifestyle, the level of activity I am used to (high) and what I need my knee to do. He sent me for MRI scans after a physical assessment, and we discovered that, as a result of being discharged without physiotherapy, my kneecap had started to slide from side to side, instead of up and down. So Mr Bell referred me to Claire Robertson for some specialist physio to finally get my knee back in working order. I felt relieved to have found a clinic that really cared and who could reassure me that nothing more serious was wrong.
I didn’t ski that season, but the following season I had an extremely unlucky fall on some ice and snapped my ACL. I texted Mr Bell that day and he immediately began to advise me on how to manage my knee and set up an MRI for the day I returned to the UK. Five weeks later, in March 2013, after some dogged determination on my behalf to get the movement back, I underwent surgery and a hamstring reconstruction.
I had aqua therapy at Wimbledon Clinics shortly after the operation, was referred to a brilliant physiotherapist close to my home and Mr Bell telephoned me several times in the weeks after my operation to find out how I was getting on and discuss pain and movement levels. After a major operation, this is about as reassuring as it gets and I cannot thank him enough for finding the time to do so.
In the past five years, my job as a journalist had changed from office-bound (when I first met Mr Bell) to now freelance health, fitness, ski and travel writer. Mr Bell knows what I want from my knee and helped me every inch of the way back to full use. Under the very close supervision of expert physio James Vickers (who worked with the British ski team) and with my own personal trainer in Lymington, Karen Davis, I am back to full strength – and then some.
Last summer I trained for the cycle section of an Ironman, including serious climbs at high-altitude in Colorado, I returned to sailing competitively on a 40ft yacht both inshore and offshore (for which you need balance as well as agility and strength) and last winter skied around 20 different resorts, finishing in March with a hiking/ski race at altitude in Aspen over four hours with too many bump runs to mention. Then last Sunday I finished my first 10k closer to 45 minutes than the 50 I had been aiming for. I iced my knee that afternoon to be kind to it more than anything else – it felt a bit grumpy – but two days later I’ve been cycling, walking and to a yoga class.
I can only thank Jonathan Bell and his incredible team for putting me back together, holding my hand through every step of my recovery from start to finish — finish being the position I am in now, not eight weeks after my operation. My knee, and its ability to function, is crucial to my job as well as my lifestyle and wellbeing, and feel so fortunate to have found Wimbledon Clinics at the time I did. Thank you!