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Kevin Koncilja's Story: From Broken Femur to Boston Marathon

07/09/2015

Less than one month after his 4-hour-25-minute 2014 Boston Marathon finish benefiting the Flutie Foundation, Kevin Koncilja—midway through a post-work practice run—felt his right foot hit an unexpected jut of pavement, and sailed through the air. 

Landing awkwardly—horizontally—on his right thigh, feet pointed skyward, “it felt like the ground went through my leg,” he remembered. “I couldn’t stop screaming.” Concerned bystanders immediately encircled Kevin, offering aid. Shocked, terrified, pain-stricken Kevin repeated, “I can’t move my leg. I can’t move my leg.”

A flurry of EMTs whisked him to Tufts Medical Center where emergency room scans and X-rays quickly declared Kevin, then 25, had sustained a transverse fracture of his middle femoral shaft—a complete break across the midpoint of the femur (or thighbone), perpendicular to its length.

Dr. Scott Ryan, Tufts’ Chief of Orthopedic Trauma, informed Kevin his leg needed immediate operating, explaining that his femur would require reconstruction using an 18-inch titanium rod secured by screws, either to his hip (antegrade) or his knee (retrograde). “Both are accepted ways to treat the fracture,” said Dr. Ryan of the procedure he routinely performs. “Kevin’s I could do either way.”

Against All Odds: The Hardest Bone to Break

Orthopedic surgery patient at Tufts Medical Center in Boston takes his first steps after surgery.A break to the femur—the longest and strongest human bone—typically results only from a colossal amount of force, with car crashes the number one cause, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “I had never broken a bone in my life,” said Kevin. “To start out with the strongest bone in the human body—that was definitely a surprise.”

A tibial traction pin inserted through the shin bone stabilized Kevin’s leg overnight before Dr. Ryan’s successful 2-hour surgery the next morning. “The bone takes 3-4 months to heal, but weight-bearing can begin immediately after surgery,” Dr. Ryan said, and indeed, the post-op team insisted Kevin stand on his injured leg that very day.

Kevin recalled, “They told me, ‘It’s going to be miserable—you’ll relive that injury every day in rehab, but if you don’t push through the pain now, you’re not going to get where you need to be.’”

We Can Rebuild Him: Stronger, Better, Faster

A five-day stay at Tufts MC dissolved into nearly 30 days of in-patient rehabilitation at Brookline’s Coolidge House, followed by over a month of physical therapy house calls before Kevin—a single, third-floor walkup resident—could begin outpatient PT and return to work. Though it was a grueling two-and-a-half-month recovery, Kevin remained laser-focused on rebuilding.

As he rapidly, if arduously, regained strength, his sights shifted toward charity running again. Dr. Ryan, via frequent follow-ups, found Kevin pushing himself a little too hard in July, and ordered biweekly PT visits through September.

Running for a Cause

Orthopedic surgery patient runs the Boston Marathon less than a year after a very complex surgery at Tufts Medical Center.By October, Kevin felt strong enough to walk the Flutie 5K, and his stamina sparked an even more ambitious goal—running Boston again in April. This time, he would support the Martin Richard Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization created by the parents of 8-year-old Martin Richard, killed in the Boston Marathon bombings April 15, 2013.

Philanthropy has always been a core value for Kevin, a lifelong Catholic, former homeless ministry director in college, and current leader of the Paulist Center Boston’s Wednesday Night Supper Club, which serves a nutritious dinner to 200 people every Wednesday evening. “The best thing you can do to change the world is putting a smile on someone else’s face,” said Kevin.

At his 6-month post-op follow-up in November, Dr. Ryan gave him medical clearance to train, and once again Kevin was sprinting full bore toward his new goal. By January 2015, his hard-core regimen resulted in an array of injuries. “Both IT bands, both Achilles tendons, my left leg overcompensating for my right,” said Kevin. “I saw the physical therapist on a regular basis from January through the marathon.”

How to Succeed at Recovery by Really, Really Trying

May 2015, Kevin arrived to his one-year post-op appointment and handed Dr. Ryan a double picture frame—on the left, a walker-assisted Kevin taking his very first step at Tufts one year earlier; on the right, Kevin crossing the finish line at the April 2015 Boston Marathon.

“I came back, ran the marathon, and I was faster than last year,” said Kevin, who clocked in at 4 hours, 11 minutes. To boot, his efforts raised $9,000 for The Martin Richard Foundation—a fundraising goal Kevin hopes to beat if chosen to represent them again in 2016.

“Kevin’s recovery was typical from a bone-healing standpoint,” said Dr. Ryan, “but from a functional standpoint, it’s amazing to be able to run a marathon less than a year after surgery.” 

Reflecting on the past exhausting, exhilarating, epic 12 months, Kevin said, “If I could go back and choose any other [hospital]…I really don’t know if there’s better care elsewhere. To be able to recover this way requires a successful surgery and a good ortho team. Tufts put me in the right place for recovery. There were no complications. It [my successful recovery] all goes back to the original surgery and the time I spent at Tufts.” 

Today, Kevin has no pain. No injuries. “Not even small ones,” he said. “I feel great. I consider myself blessed.”