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From Surgery To Kilamanjaro, a Patient Story (Dr. Richard Cunningham)

At first, Bethany M. thought she was fine after being hit by an out-of-control skier at Beaver Creek ski area. “I thought I just pulled a muscle or something,” the avid skier recalls.  After trying to ski about 10 yards down the mountain however, Bethany realized her leg was seriously injured below her knee. Thankfully a friend, who happens to be a ski patroller, caught up with her and radioed down for a sled.

By the time Bethany arrived at the medical center, the pain started to set in. The medical staff told her she probably injured her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). They gave her a pair of crutches and a brace and told her to go see an orthopaedic surgeon for an MRI.

After asking around for a referral, two people she knew recommended Dr. Rick Cunningham, an expert in the latest surgical techniques for treating sports injuries of the knee.  “These were people I trusted so I knew I was making the right choice,” says Bethany.

Getting Ready for Surgery She called Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery and was able to get in to see Dr. Cunningham the next day. An MRI revealed a completely torn ACL; Bethany would need surgery. All she could think about was her upcoming month-long trip to Australia. “Dr. Cunningham was great; he was so calming and so understanding. He explained that I didn’t need to have the surgery right away and that I could wait until after my trip.”

Upon her return, Bethany called to make another appointment with Dr. Cunningham. “The front office staff was great; they looked up his schedule right then and there to find a time that worked best for me. “They were polite and professional.” During her office visit, Dr. Cunningham took the time to go over her options for surgery. “He was really good at explaining all the different ways he could repair my ACL.”

Options for ACL Repair

There are three common procedures used to repair damaged ACLs; surgeons either use a strip of the patient’s patellar tendon, a tendon from the patient’s hamstring, or an ACL from a human cadaver.

“He went through the pros and cons of all the techniques and explained everything; he was very thorough - even drawing me a picture of where my scars would be,” remembers Bethany. “You feel more comfortable when you’re involved in making a decision in your own surgery.”

Together they decided on the hamstring procedure. “Dr. Cunningham explained that in my particular case, this would be a stronger repair that would hold up for a longer time.”

From Surgery to Kilamanjaro

Bethany says the surgery went smoothly. The recovery however, was long and hard. “Physical therapy is so important. I would go in so swollen and in so much pain, but after an hour I would leave feeling great,” says Bethany. “They push you in order to get you back to doing the things you love.” Bethany went to physical therapy 2-3 times a week for several months.

Even though she didn’t need to, Bethany took the next winter off from skiing, “I was scared, my knee felt great but it was a mental thing,” recalls Bethany. Today, she’s skiing more than before her accident and has taken up telemark skiing. She never thinks about her knee, even while she was climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro less than two years after her surgery.


Dr. Cunningham is a full-service knee and shoulder specialist with particular expertise in ACL reconstruction, rotator cuff repair, meniscus preservation surgery, and shoulder instability surgery.

He is a US Ski Team Physician and works with athletes at all levels to get them back to the sports they enjoy.


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