Topeka man gets back on his feet after nearly losing his leg in wreck

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 10:29 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Robert Neal feels blessed with every step he takes.

April 19th, 2020, he was on a motorcycle ride with friends. They were on Topeka Boulevard near downtown when an SUV turned right into him.

“It hit my leg. The frame cracked it hit so hard,” Robert recalled.

The impact snapped his femur just above the knee he’d recently had replaced and crushed his ankle.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Tilley was at Stormont Vail when Robert arrived, and was called to evaluate - could his leg be saved, or would they have to amputate?

“You have bone, skin, muscle, nerves, and blood flow,” Dr. Tilley said. “You evaluate all those independently and see if you can take something from somewhere else and replace it and keep a functional limb.”

Robert, 62-years-old and a Marine Corps veteran, learned later how grim the reality was, when his sister, an APRN in Atlanta, got a look at his case.

“Every doctor she spoke to - they would have taken my leg,” he said. “Dr. Tilley rebuilt my leg.”

With training in both tramautic injuries and microvascular surgery, Dr. Tilley, who practices through Cotton O’Neil Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, believed Robert’s leg and ankle could recover.

“It was a bony injury with a lot of skin loss with it,” Dr. Tilley said. “The bone can be fixed or replaced. The skin can be replaced by bringing it from somewhere else.”

Over the course of a half dozen surgeries, Dr. Tilley put pins in Robert’s ankle and plates on his femur, plus redid the prior knee replacement, borrowed calf muscle to stabilize it, and closed the wounds with skin grafts from his arms and thigh.

After two months in a wheelchair, Robert was handed a walker. He said it was an emotional moment.

“To be able to stand up all by myself...I cried a little bit at night,” he said.

Ten months later, he’s nearly ready to put down the cane and get back to work.

“He’s tough as nails,” Dr. Tilley said. “There’s nothing that he can’t get up and do on his limb.”

Robert says his family added to the support he received from Dr. Tilley and his staff. He just needs a sore on his heel to clear up before he is cleared to head back to his job at Frito Lay.

“Every time I wake up in the morning and my feet can touch the carpet is an amazing day to me - because I almost lost my leg, if it wasn’t for this doctor,” Robert said.

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