Ortho surgery gets injured skier back to black diamond runs

It was a cool, crisp morning last January when Katrina Harman skied down the slopes at Sierra Summit near Shaver Lake. At the Double Black Diamond run (expert only), she stopped, whipped out her phone and dialed orthopedic surgeon Peter Simonian at Simonian Sports Medicine Clinic in Fresno. She never expected the man who made possible her return to the Black Diamond to answer her call.

Just four years earlier, Harman, an extreme sports enthusiast, had a skiing accident that nearly cost her her life and left her in a battle to walk again. Skiing on her final run of the day, she lost her edge in some ice, flew off a cliff at a high rate of speed and hit a tree – falling more than 15 feet to the ground through the tree branches.

After the accident, Harman was whisked off to the hospital where she had ligament injuries, a broken arm and more. Doctors immediately referred her to Dr. Simonian because of his expertise and experience with repairing multiple ligament injuries. Harman was unable to walk or use her right arm, which was fractured.

“Anyone with these types of injuries … it’s going to have a profound effect on your life,” said Dr. Simonian, who performs his surgeries at Clovis Community Medical Center.

Harman’s injuries led her through a series of surgeries and rehab that lasted almost a year.

On Harman’s right knee, Dr. Simonian reconstructed the anterior cruciate ligament, the lateral collateral ligament and repaired the ligament structures in the posterior lateral corner. Dr. Simonian said these are all critical to getting the knee back to a normal function or as close to a normal function as possible.

The knee is one of the largest and most complicated joints in the body. Torn or damaged ligaments can leave you with an unstable knee and your movement severely compromised.

Harman also had some meniscus cartilage on the knee that was injured and repaired. The peroneal nerve that travels down the outer region of the knee and controls motion about the ankle and foot was decompressed in an area of hematoma or bleeding.

On her left knee, Harman had just as significant an injury. Dr. Simonian reconstructed the anterior cruciate ligament in the front, the posterior cruciate ligament in the back and the medial collateral on the inside of the knee in contrast to the ligament on the outside of the knee as was the case on her right side.

“I told Katrina that after these injuries I didn’t think her knees would ever be what they were but she was determined, and she is an extremely active person, to get back to that lifestyle as fast as possible,” Dr. Simonian said. “You have to get these reconstructions in a very precise position in order for the knee to function properly, for it to be able to bend and straighten without it losing any stability and that requires precise placements of these graphs or ligaments.”

Back on the slopes with phone in hand last January, Harman was able to catch Dr. Simonian between patients.

“I’m calling from the mountain,” she told him before skiing down the Black Diamond run. “Over 30 years of skiing and my knees are better now than before.”

Harman acknowledged the rehab work didn’t come easy. She spent nearly six months of rehab with physical therapist Curtis Cookingham before, during and after surgeries.

"Katrina has been able to overcome the many hurdles associated with knee injuries and surgeries of this magnitude,” Cookingham said.

And her fractured arm which she thought was on the mend, didn’t heal correctly. So after her knee surgeries, Dr. Simonian repaired her arm.

Dr. Simonian said Harman is a remarkable woman. “I am so thankful for all of her hard work and her passion for life.”

Four years after her accident, Harman wears protective gear as a precaution – knee braces she says she doesn’t really need. She points out, “You can never be too careful.”

“Katrina continues to amaze me,” Dr. Simonian said. “She has incredible tenacity, strength and perseverance to come back from two severe multi-ligament knee injury surgeries along with another surgery for a fracture of her forearm that would not heal.”

Today, Harman enjoys full range of motion with her knees and says they’re almost better than before.

“ I love my knees,” Harman said.  “And, I can still wear 4-inch stilettos!”


This story was reported by Mary Lisa Russell. She can be reached at mrussell@communitymedical.org.