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Just Keep Going—How One QC Ironman Athlete Made It Happen With Help From Dr. Tuvi Mendel From Orthopaedic Specialists


Submitted by Orthopaedic Specialists, PC

If you ask Quad-Cities native and lifelong athlete Cathy Cooper the best way to handle set-backs from injury, a big smile will sweep across her face as she states, “You just keep going.” She’ll also tell you to find medical experts you trust to be part of your winning team.

After racking up multiple injuries, the 56-year-old is more than qualified to give that advice. Since breaking both her elbows in 1998 while ice-skating, she has turned to Dr. Tuvi Mendel and his dedicated team at Orthopaedic Specialists to help her recover.

In 2012, she was hit by a car while running and broke a vertebra and two bones in her leg.

In 2014, she experienced a rotator cuff tear and severe wrist fracture after a fall while running.

In 2019, she had a bike wreck that resulted in a fractured hip and pelvic bone.

Most people would have just given up, but not Cathy. With the help of Dr. Mendel and his team at Orthopaedic Specialists, she overcame all her injuries to compete in multiple marathons and achieve her dream—completing a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, and 26.2-mile marathon run. That’s right. Cathy is an Ironman Triathlete.

What made her achievement even grander is that she completed the triathlon just eight weeks after fracturing her hip and pelvis—and just 10 months after receiving a total knee replacement by Dr. Mendel because of wear-and-tear damage to her knee.

The Decision to Have a Total Knee Replacement
Cathy had attempted to hold off on a total knee replacement for as long as possible. During a 70.3 Ironman Triathlon in Colorado in 2018, she experienced what she called a “significant increase in knee pain.” Knee injuries caused by repetitive impact and use are common among athletes.

An MRI revealed tears in her medial and lateral meniscus. Dr. Mendel discussed options for management, and the decision was made to proceed with a knee scope initially knowing that eventually she would need a total knee arthroplasty. Two months later Cathy completed a 50-mile trail run.

“I continued to train and make it through my runs thanks to the meniscus repair,” said Cathy. “I still knew, as Dr. Mendel said, ‘the tire is worn out and you need a new tire.’ There was nothing more they could do for that knee.”

Knowing that Dr. Tuvi Mendel, who has years of experience and fellowship-training in adult reconstruction and sport injuries, understood her goals, Cathy decided to move forward with a minimally invasive total knee replacement.

A total knee replacement (also called knee arthroplasty) is an orthopedic procedure that replaces the damaged or worn surfaces of the knee cartilage and bones with an implant that relieves pain and increases mobility. Unlike the traditional approach with a long, vertical incision at the knee’s center, a minimally invasive total knee replacement uses a shorter incision with the goal of reducing postoperative pain and speeding recovery.

“I’ve been with Dr. Mendel’s team for years and through all the ups and downs of my injuries,” said Cathy. “As hard of a decision as that was, I trusted Dr. Mendel fully. I love the team. They take such good care of me always, and they’re supportive of my goals.”

Six months after the surgery, Cathy won her age group in a sprint distance triathlon. Seven months after the surgery, she placed second in her age group in a half Ironman Triathlon.

Another Set-Back: Hip and Pelvic Bone Fractures
Her recovery was going splendidly, and her knee felt great.

But then, only eight weeks prior to the Ironman Triathlon, Cathy experienced a bike wreck, fracturing her hip and pelvic bone.

Dr. Mendel told her she wouldn’t need surgery if she was cautious.

“That’s what is so great about their team,” said Cathy. “They go through all the options and talk to you based on what matters to your lifestyle. They don’t just jump to one answer. I believe in their expertise.”

“Can I Do It?”
Cathy was wondering just that as she prepared to achieve her dream—competing in the Ironman Triathlon in Tempe, Arizona.
And, she sure could do it.

She placed fourth in her age group for the swim portion, but she had a few mechanical stops for brakes and a flat rear tire during the bike portion. The last half of the marathon run proved to be “pretty brutal,” but she reached the finish line.

“My knee held up great through the whole thing,” Cathy said. “Had it not been for that bike crash and my hip and pelvic fracture, it would have gone a lot smoother. The training is where all your hours and effort are. The event is just the icing on the cake.”

Recognizing Years of Expert Support
Cathy is emphatic when it comes to describing the years of support she has received from Dr. Mendel and his team.

“From that first accident clear back in 1998, they were comforting. They are there for you, and they let you know it,” said Cathy.

She adds that the expertise of Dr. Tuvi Mendel and the team is also a big part of what makes them a winning team for athletes.

“I trust Dr. Mendel’s surgical abilities,” said Cathy. “He has such a stable, supportive team, and they always answer all my questions. They help me keep going. That’s always my goal—to be 100 percent and continue on.”

For Cathy, continuing on means the Hennepin Hundred—a 100-mile trail run in Illinois toward the end of 2020. She also is planning another half Ironman and some longer distance open water swimming races. Whatever she plans, she knows the team at Orthopaedic Specialists is ready to support her.

“I’m grateful every day that I can do what I do,” said Cathy. “No matter the pain or injury, I’m still able to set the goal and get it done. During every workout and event, I take the time to focus on gratitude. I know many people have worse problems, and I’m thankful that I can continue to do what makes me happy. If Dr. Mendel and his team can put me back together, then I can keep going.”

In her first event after her total knee replacement with Dr. Mendel of Orthopaedic Specialists, Cathy placed second in her age group in the Big Swell 1.2 mile open water swim in Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin.

Seven months after a total knee replacement with Dr. Mendel of Orthopaedic Specialists, Cathy placed second in her age group in a 70.3 Ironman Triathlon in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Cathy proudly shows off her medal after completing a full Ironman Triathlon in Tempe, Arizona less than a year after a total knee replacement with Dr. Mendel of Orthopaedic Specialists.

To schedule a consultation with Dr. Mendel, visit www.OSQuadCities.com or call (563) 344-9292.