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Expert Orthopedic Team Gets Patients Moving Again

Oct 7, 2020, 20:23 PM by Sansum Clinic
Jason Stiff orthopedic training team with William (Hod) Dunbar, MD at Sansum Clinic’s Foothill Surgery Center.

When 47-year old Jason Stiff planted his foot for a layup during a basketball game fundraiser for Pioneer Valley High School in January 2019, his knee gave way and he collapsed. “I was on the floor in a heap,” he recalls. “My kneecap was several inches higher on my leg than it should have been.” At the time, Jason was working as a meteorologist for KCOY-TV and he enjoyed participating in community events. During the dust-up on the court, Jason unfortunately ruptured his patellar tendon which attaches the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone. Staff at the Marian Regional Medical Center emergency room put Jason’s leg in a brace and recommended he visit orthopedic surgeon William (Hod) Dunbar, MD at Sansum Clinic’s Foothill Surgery Center.

Jason Stiff KEYT-TV Orthopedics

Dr. Dunbar’s medical education includes orthopedic training from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and two fellowships, one in sports medicine from the North Sydney Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Centre in Australia, and another in trauma medicine under Dr. Bruce Twaddle in Auckland, New Zealand. Dr. Dunbar is one of only two fellowship-trained trauma surgeons in Santa Barbara who handle critical emergency cases that require surgery. Dr. Dunbar also has the experience and the passion for helping a variety of local athletes in his hometown, from young ice hockey players to high school football stars to competitors at UC Santa Barbara and Westmont College. This combination of specialties was a perfect match for Jason, because of the unique lens it provided. “Many of the things that happen in sports are traumatic injuries,” explains Dr. Dunbar. “With my background, I can often tweak the surgery to incorporate multiple repairs. In trauma medicine, it’s a different jigsaw puzzle every time.”

Jason needed a fix for what Dr. Dunbar terms a typical “weekend warrior” injury. Five days after the basketball game incident, the surgeon successfully repaired Jason’s knee at the Foothill Surgery Center. Both Jason and Dr. Dunbar praise the staff there for excellent customer service. “Sometimes, surgery centers can leave patients feeling like they are part of an assembly line, but I receive nothing but compliments on our people here,” reports Dr. Dunbar. The physician also credits Talia Beck, RN and his Clinic team for always finding a way to schedule patients who need immediate attention. “In the office, I am usually putting fires out one by one. I know I can call or text at any time and they can figure out how to get someone in. Our clinic staff members are phenomenal,” he offers.

A few days after his knee surgery, Jason became disoriented in the middle of the night and passed out while returning from the bathroom. “I hit the hard ground with my shoulder which somehow tore all the ligaments connecting my shoulder and collarbone. The end of my collarbone was sticking up so far I thought it was broken. How I didn’t lose teeth, I have no idea,” recounts Jason. According to Dr. Dunbar, the incident was likely a vasovagal episode which occurs when the body overreacts to certain triggers, causing a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure, and sometimes a loss of consciousness. Jason’s 6’3” frame ached terribly. In addition to a healing knee, his recovery was now clouded by an AC joint separation, the collar bone separating from the shoulder blade, caused by landing on his outstretched arm.

Before Jason could address this second medical storm, he developed severe chest pains, extremely stressful since his father had passed away from a heart attack. Tests performed at Sansum Clinic Urgent Care showed pulmonary embolisms in both lungs. “They said it was life-threatening. I only had 25% capacity in my lungs,” he notes. Blood thinners eliminated his symptoms but this delay meant Jason would need to receive an AC reconstruction and ligament/tendon transplant instead of a repair. This is the sort of “balancing act” Dr. Dunbar endeavors with every patient, where he learns about their lifestyle, their exercise patterns, and their future plans and then tailors treatment to the individual. He regularly collaborates with the other Sansum Clinic orthopedic surgeons and sometimes will coordinate with other Sansum Clinic departments, like Neurology if there are nerve issues, or Nutrition, if patients need to safely lose weight before any type of surgery. In Jason’s case, Dr. Dunbar connected him with the Physical Therapy Department, with whom he works closely. After more than 20 sessions with physical therapist Lillian Donner, PT, DPT and physical therapy assistant Stella Tsui, Jason’s flexibility and mobility greatly improved. Sometimes, multiple traumas in one year can create a tendency to avoid certain activities because of worry that pain or re-injury will occur. “We practiced a variety of exercises that mimicked real life movements in order to address some of these concerns,” describes Donner. “We progressed his motion from barely being able to lift his arm above his shoulder to full range of motion and strength.” She calls Jason “the perfect patient,” truly dedicated to rehabilitating his knee and shoulder by religiously exercising at home and at the Clinic. Because Jason lived near the Foothill location, he frequently walked laps in the early morning around the parking lot to increase his strength. Dr. Dunbar, Lillian Donner and many of Jason’s medical team members enjoyed seeing their patient raise his arm to give them a wave. “I got to see many of the people who have helped me and say hi,” remarks Jason. “I have been very pleased with the doctors, nurses, physical therapists, receptionists, patient business services reps, everyone essentially. They’ve made this year easier.”