Gerald Swindle has a hitch in his giddy-up. The 46-year-old Alabama pro is happy to be limping, though, as the alternative was a prosthetic right leg. Only five days after Swindle won his second Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, he elected to have surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee and clean up some arthritis that had become increasingly painful. The result was disastrous.
“It was supposed to be a simple surgery. I woke up at 4 a.m., drove to Birmingham, had surgery at 7, woke up and headed back to the house. But by the time I got home, my thigh was killing me,” Swindle remembers. So, he called his neighbor, fellow Elite Series angler Matt Lee, and asked if his girlfriend, who is an RN, could look at his leg.
“She undid the bandage and blood was squirting out of the holes where they did the surgery. I wasn’t too concerned at that point, so I took some pain medication and went to sleep.”
When Swindle woke up a couple hours later, concern became an understatement. “My thigh, from my knee to my hip, was big. I mean big. And it was cold to the touch and hard as a rock. It was killin’ me.” So, his wife, Le Ann, called the doctor and he recommended they drive an hour and a half back to Birmingham so the leg could be checked out.
The doctor met them at his office and was shocked. He called a second doctor and sent for a compartmental pressure gauge from the emergency room. “Man, they started jabbin’ needles, those giant ones that look like a turkey baster, everywhere in my leg to get the fluid out. I start bleedin’ like a pig. I had blood on the floor, on the table, maybe even some on the walls. Le Ann is trying to sop it up with paper towels. I’m tellin’ ya, it looked like a low budget horror movie in there.”
The pressure gauge finally arrived. A reading of 30 was cause for alarm. The pressure on Swindle’s thigh was 81. Within 45 minutes, Swindle was back under the knife.
“When I woke up, I found that they had cut me from my knee up to my hip to try and drain the blood.” This incision (fasciotomy) was left open for 24 hours to relieve pressure and assist in draining the fluid that had built up, which meant Swindle was in for surgery No. 3.
“When the doctor walked in after the third surgery, I was looking for the thumbs-up. And I was wrong. He said they tried to sew it up but the pressure kept building. He said not only did they not sew it up, but they cut it open some more. I was like, ‘hell, we are going backward!’” They put a wound vacuum in the affected area and he lay in the hospital for four more days before they sewed his leg up for the final time.
The doctors theorize that during the knee scope an artery had been nicked. This created compartment syndrome, which creates excessive pressure inside enclosed muscle space. This impedes the flow of blood to and from affected tissues. This is why Swindle’s leg felt cold. No blood was getting to the muscle. Another couple hours, and his leg muscle would have died. Had the Swindle’s waited until the next day to go back to the hospital, the doctor said his leg likely would have been amputated.
Now Swindle has the uphill battle of rehabilitation. He should have started bending his knee 24 hours after his first surgery. He went 12 days without moving it at all. Hence, the significant limp two months after his scare. “I’ll admit that I have cried a few times during rehab, which was a little embarrassing because the nurses were cute. But I will be 100 percent by the time the 2017 Elite Series season kicks off,” he says. “And thankfully, I’ll be standing on my own two feet.”