A year after an Achilles rupture, Jordan White has returned to the mountains thanks to Aspen’s medical community.
Jordan White has skied first lines in Georgia (the country), completed a 31-day mountaineering expedition of the three highest peaks in Alaska, and he still holds the title of the youngest person to summit and ski all of Colorado’s 14ers.
But it was a forward ejection he took while teaching a ski lesson on Snowmass Ski Area that debilitated him.
“Of all the crazy things I’ve done, I was teaching skiing,” says White.
The front flip ripped him out of his skis, and completely severed his left Achilles tendon. “For one minute I thought I could walk and then realized how bad it was,” he says.
He was immediately transported downhill in a toboggan to the Snowmass Clinic and shortly after his diagnosis, was referred to Dr. Waqqar Khan-Farooqi, an orthopedic surgeon and fellowship-trained foot, ankle and trauma specialist at OrthoAspen. Achilles tears aren’t as common as knee injuries for the skiing demographic, yet White was a prime candidate: a male in his mid-30s, an age at which blood supply levels are changing. Typically, the injury happens to someone performing a cutting motion, like in a basketball game.
Treatment can vary and has evolved over the years, but Dr. Khan-Farooqi says he gives patients two choices: a nonsurgical immobilization of the tendon that lets it heal naturally, but has a slightly higher risk of retear; or surgery, that potentially carries the risk of infection, to reconstruct the tendon that then requires months, if not years, of physical therapy.
White, a powerful athlete who wanted to return to the adventures he’d been doing before the injury, chose surgery based on the potential outcomes Dr. Khan-Farooqi gave him. Previously, Dr. Khan-Farooqi worked with professional sports team athletes, so he was well aware of both the mental and physical toughness that would be required for a full recovery.
“When I can stand on my toes without thinking about it, that will be when I’m 100 percent,” says White. He had his surgery in early January 2019, and 11 months later was back on the ski hill. “It felt amazing,” he says, about skiing on Aspen Mountain in mid-November. He was cautious, but enthusiastic to be back on the slopes.
During the Achilles healing process, the calf muscle completely atrophies to allow the tendon to rebuild. So gaining that strength back in the muscle is part of the difficult and lengthy recovery. “Those first six weeks were the hardest part,” says White. After intensive physical therapy sessions three to four times each week, he feels like he’s getting closer to his old self. While healing time is 9-12 months to return to sport; strength gains continue for 18-24 months after surgery; and on average a person regains 85% of the strength of the opposite leg.
The experience was humbling. For White, who volunteers with Mountain Rescue Aspen, which requires grueling physical and mental labor, getting up Smuggler this past summer was an achievement.
“What I do for a living is to take care of people,” says Dr. Khan-Farooqi. “Forty percent of their healing is controlled by mental attitude. Someone like Jordan had a wonderful community and supportive family to help in the process.”
He says he’s honest with his patients from the beginning about their recovery process. It won’t be easy and there will be setbacks, but healing will occur.
“For Jordan, my part was easy, I just had to be in the operating room,” he adds. “Jordan was the tough one here.”
And White is equally as complimentary.
“Dr. Khan-Farooqi was super willing and open, and really took the time to develop a personal connection with me,” he says. “That made all the difference.”
Dr. Khan-Farooqi is a member of the expert team at OrthoAspen, providing the highest quality orthopedic care for the Aspen Valley and beyond. Learn how you can get back to doing the things you love to do at orthoaspen.org.