Back in the saddle thanks to expert care
Posted on 8 April 2021
After a bad fall while training for SA XCO Nationals in November 2020, former Tour de France rider and pro MTB athlete Jaco Venter suffered a complex fracture of the lower end of the right humerus, and a rupture of the right triceps. Just months later, he’s on the bike again and almost back to top form.
Dr Karl Strauss, orthopaedic surgeon at Mediclinic Stellenbosch, says Venter sustained a high-energy injury; there were many splinters of bone, and the break involved the elbow joint. “He also sustained a complete rupture of the triceps muscle, which is in itself a very serious injury. The fact that these two things occurred concomitantly made his injury atypical and very severe.”
These injuries are rare, and specialised equipment had to be flown in for Venter’s surgery. “Much like rebuilding a puzzle, there’s only one correct solution. The plates and screws used to reconstruct an elbow fracture of this nature are specialised and not available everywhere.”
Orthopaedic surgery has evolved, and the one-size-fits-all approach has to be swapped out for a more anatomically contoured one, he adds.
Dr Strauss planned the surgery meticulously and requested a CT scan to visualise every aspect of the fracture. “With this information it’s possible to reconstruct the pieces one by one in order to get it the way it was before the injury.”
The patient has made steady progress with his recovery but will still see gains in strength and conditioning for several months, Dr Strauss adds.
Venter tells The Future of Healthcare he didn’t think it was a serious crash initially because he wasn’t going that fast, but as soon as he landed, he felt pain like never before.
“I stood up and when I looked down at my arm, I saw it was hanging and it wasn’t against my chest where I thought it was. There was lots of blood. I knew it was serious and the pain was unbearable.”
On arrival at Mediclinic Stellenbosch, Venter says he was treated well and felt at ease as the doctors explained the situation and procedures.
“I’ve had broken bones racing all over the world but none as close to the pain I felt with this break. I’ve broken both my elbows, left clavicle, both arms and foot, but this was the first time I needed surgery in my professional career.
“I don’t think my arm will ever be like it was before the accident but I’m working hard to get it as close as possible. I still don’t have any feeling in my pinkie finger and the outside of my hand from the nerve damage and I hope that returns to normal soon. Dr Strauss said it could take months as nerves grow back very slowly, so it’s a waiting game.
“I had to do a lot of rehab on my grip strength and the loss of muscle in my whole arm and shoulder, but it’s getting there. The biokineticist also made me focus more on my upper-body strength after the accident, which is a good thing, especially for mountain biking.”
Venter is also one of the few people to see an upside to the COVID-19 pandemic; many cycling events have been postponed and it’s given him time to focus on recovery before returning to a full racing programme.