BLOOMINGTON — If Australian-born equestrian Peter Atkins is able to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, he'll have a Bloomington surgeon to thank.
Atkins, 46, has been trying to qualify for the Olympics since 1986. This year, he made Australia's 12-man Olympic equestrian squad, but his dream seemed dashed a month ago when his horse fell on him during a practice session in New York City. His right ankle was fractured.
He underwent surgery there, but his repaired ankle failed to heal properly.
But he happened to know Bloomington anesthesiologist Beatrice Travis, who provides anesthesia to patients at the Southern Indiana Surgery Center in Bloomington. Atkins had taught an equestrian clinic last year at The Bea Hive, Travis' horse and bullmastiff breeding farm in Springville, and was scheduled to teach additional clinics there.
"When I spoke with her about the problems I was having with my ankle, she told me to talk to Dr. Matt (Parmenter)," he said. "He was the first surgeon who said, 'We can fix that.' Every other surgeon said, 'All we can do is wait 6 to 8 weeks and see if it heals.' I have a lot of faith in him."
On Monday morning, Atkins, propped up by a crutch under each arm, hobbled into the waiting room at the Southern Indiana Surgery Center. Minutes later, he was in la-la land, and Parmenter was harvesting bone marrow from his heel, then spinning the marrow and mixing it with chemicals to extract stem cells.
Then, under a special X-ray machine, Parmenter injected the stem cells into the fracture site. He inserted a screw to stabilize the fracture, then attached a bone stimulator machine to Atkins' ankle to further promote healing. The entire procedure, including the bone stimulator treatment, took about 90 minutes.
Parmenter performed the procedure for free. Travis donated her anesthesiology services, the surgery center waived its facility fee, BioMet from Warsaw, Ind., donated a bone aspiration kit, and Smith & Nephew of Hanover, Mass., loaned Parmenter the bone stimulator.
"I am so grateful," said Atkins, who does not have American-based health insurance coverage. "I could not have afforded to pay for this procedure."
Atkins is optimistic about his recovery, but said that even if his ankle does not fully heal in time, he will still compete in a final qualifying event next month in Germany that will whittle Australia's 12-man squad down to the five riders who will actually compete in the Summer Olympics.
"I'll enter that no matter what, because it's my chance to see my dream come true," he said. "Besides, the horse does all the work. All I have to do is stay on top and support what the horse is doing."
If he makes the final cut, Atkins and his 10-year-old Argentinian-bred sport horse, Henry Jota Hampton, will compete over the course of three days in dressage, jumps and obstacles.
After he awoke from Monday's surgery, an elated Atkins bought pizza for the surgery center staff. Then he gave Parmenter a signed photograph of himself with his horse.
"All I was hoping for was a thank you," Parmenter said.