It was May of 2020. Emily Stephenson, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, was headed home for summer vacation.
It was a routine Sunday afternoon drive home to Suamico. It was raining lightly on Highway 21 in central Wisconsin. Then a big pickup truck crossed into her lane of traffic and crashed into her Volkswagen Passat.
“Someone fell asleep and hit me head-on,” she says.
Her car was totaled. Her legs appeared totaled, too.
“The dashboard came up to my knees and I broke both femurs in three places. I tore my meniscus. … I broke both tibias and I split my kneecap,” Stephenson says.
“So I had a lot of leg injuries,” she says with a laugh.
Emergency crews used the Jaws of Life to free Stephenson from the wreck and rushed her to a hospital in Marshfield.
She was treated there for about four weeks. The accident occurred during the early stages of the COVID-19 global pandemic so Stephenson could not receive visitors.
“I had two surgeries within the first 24 hours,” she says. “The first one was just to clean out some of my open wounds and then the second one was a whole day of reconstructive surgery so I had rods put in, screws, plates, all that kind of stuff.”
After her hospital stay, Stephenson returned to Suamico, where she began rehabilitation from a wheelchair.
One problem lingered from the crash, though. Her left knee.
“My original surgeon from that time said, ‘There’s a cartilage defect in this left knee but it’s not something that I can take care of right now. I’m not a cartilage person.’ He was more like ortho and did bone reconstruction, all that … he warned us that that was something that I would need to take care of later, down the road.”
That road led to Schock.
Following an MRI to confirm the cartilage defect, Schock, in consultation with Stephenson’s original surgeon, removed the supportive hardware implanted in her left leg.
“That was to prepare me for Dr. Schock’s surgery,” Stephenson says.
That surgery included a knee scope to accurately measure the size of the cartilage that would need to be treated with replacement cartilage.
“It’s a very precise surgery because they had to take the exact amount from the cadaver and fit it perfectly to my defective area,” she says. “I was non-weight-bearing again on that leg for six weeks.”
Surgery was a success.
“Now that I’ve had over half a year to recover from that, I can tell you that my left knee is doing so much better than it was before that surgery,” she says.
Gone is the pain that would flare up when she made certain motions like lunging or taking a big step.
“It feels as much back to normal as it can after everything that happened to me,” Stephenson says. “It’s feeling better than I could have ever expected. I’m very thankful.”
Surgery with Schock has helped Stephenson keep up with her first graders. She teaches in the Howard-Suamico School District.
“I have a young group of kids and it’s just helped me to be more interactive with them on different levels, meeting them where they’re at and just doing all kinds of things that first-graders do,” she says. “That’s really changed a lot from what I could do before surgery.”
She credits not only Schock, but his entire team, including her physical therapists.
“I really appreciated that he took all my concerns seriously,” she says. “It never felt like whenever I asked him a question that it was a dumb question to ask.”
That bedside manner applied to the rest of Schock’s team, Stephenson says.
“I just feel very thankful for all the medical support that I’ve gotten … even with physical therapy and all that,” she says.
“I also want to say that all the PAs that worked with him were super amazing … they were all very much the same way, just very easy to talk to, would always take the time to really answer my questions and make sure I understood them.”
Stephenson strongly encourages others with similar knee issues to seek care from Schock. A close family member already has done so.
“She started having something wrong with her knee … she knew automatically to go to Dr. Schock and she didn’t even ask me, but she’s been on this journey with me and she knows, like, how amazing it was. … It was a no-brainer for her to know that that’s someone she can go to. I definitely would recommend him to anybody with any knee issue.”