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Red Coat Ready: A Patient's Story Of Courage

Red Coat Ready: A Patient's Story Of Courage
Photo of Vickie and Dr. Joshua Alpert
Vickie (left) with Dr. Joshua Alpert

On December 7th, 2022, Vickie Drendel was doing what she loved most, riding her American Saddlebred horse Dreamacres Thriller (aka “Doug”). As an avid rider who competes in saddle seat (a style of riding that aligns the rider with the horse’s natural movement and posture), Vickie was gearing up for a busy 2023 show season.

Two days later, she was in a car accident that tore her patellar tendon, the ligament that connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shin. After the accident, Vickie discovered she was unable to bear weight on the injured leg. Swelling, bruising, and increasing pain led her to seek treatment at FVO’s urgent care clinic OrthoFirst. She was immediately fitted with a knee brace to keep the knee straight and stabilized and then was seen by Dr. Josh Alpert, a shoulder & knee specialist.

Coincidentally, Vickie was already familiar with Dr. Alpert as he had repaired her husband’s shoulder some years prior. Having that previous connection and experience proved reassuring when imaging confirmed that the injury was a patellar tendon tear and would require surgery.

If you’re unfamiliar with a patellar tendon injury, that’s something to be thankful for. You cannot bend your knee the first six weeks. You cannot engage the quad in any way, and full recovery time after surgery is typically twelve weeks. For a woman who was extremely physically active prior to her accident and who was in the midst of training for upcoming spring events, it was incredibly difficult to suddenly be completely sidelined. Vickie also had some residual emotional trauma from the car accident, commenting “After the experience I went through with the accident, I truly needed a compassionate surgeon like Dr. Alpert – a doctor who would understand how I felt.”

Dr. Alpert performed surgery on Vickie on December 15th, and she was able to go home that same day. Within days, she began physical therapy three times a week. This PT would continue until September 2023 in order to fully return her leg to normal function. Vickie was in excellent shape before she was injured, which made an enormous difference in her recovery journey. Dr. Alpert commented “As a doctor, it makes it so much more likely to have a successful surgical outcome when you have a hard working, motivated patient like Vickie who just wanted to get back up on the horse!”

While there was no way around how arduous physical therapy was, starting from a place of strength and vitality did allow Vickie to improve more quickly than expected. She did every exercise that was recommended and followed her physical therapist’s instructions to the letter. While she was unable to work on strengthening until 12 weeks were up, she kept her eye on May 2nd, the target date for getting back on the horse – literally.

While Vickie was recovering, she still had a horse that needed to be trained and prepared for a busy show schedule. Fortunately, Doug was boarded at Woodwind Farm in McHenry, and owner Bonnie Kittredge was no stranger to working with both horses and humans to overcome physical challenges. Vickie was also an active volunteer at Mainstay Therapeutic Farm in their adaptive riding program, so she had extensive knowledge of the ways to make riding more accessible to those with physical challenges. Bonnie hand-picked a Woodwind Farm horse named Whisper – an apt name for a gentle, temperate creature – for Vickie to ride until she was able to start training again with the larger and more high-spirited Doug.

While Vickie was recuperating from December into early April, Woodwind Farm trainer Alex Fischer took over in preparing Doug for the upcoming show season. Along with owner Bonnie, these two experts kept Doug in great shape and readied him for the day when Vickie would be able to ride him again.

May 2nd was the anticipated clearance date for Vickie to be able to ride Doug and resume show training. Vickie’s successful surgical outcome and her hard work in physical therapy resulted in her being cleared to ride on April 3rd, almost a full month early. She was then able to ride Whisper, with a target date of May 2nd to get back on Doug. Once again, Vickie exceeded the target and was able to ride Doug on April 25th – a mere five weeks out from the first scheduled show of the summer. This milestone led Vickie to remark, “I treasure every ride on my horse and never forget that it is the skill of Dr. Alpert that helped me get back in the saddle. That was the first critical step in a long journey to recovery.”

On June 2nd, Doug and Vickie participated in the Prairie State Classic Horse Show in Woodstock, IL, grabbing two fifth place finishes – a definite win when competing against riders and horses who had trained together all year. With multiple shows scheduled from June through late October, there was no reason to believe that their results wouldn’t improve further and put them in an incredible competitive position going into 2024.

Just as Vickie began to settle back into her training routine and show schedule, her mother’s health began to decline. On June 18th, she entered hospice, and a week later, she passed away. Vickie was able to channel her feelings into her training with Doug, both as a distraction from her grief and in honor of her mother. As Vickie dealt with her loss, she and Doug continued to earn accolades and awards.

Vickie and Doug qualified for the highly esteemed Monarch Horse Show Series in September 2023, one of the last competitions of the season. At that event, they took both a 2nd and 3rd place finish against some very serious competitors. The final show of the year followed (Illinois American Saddlebred Pleasure Horse Association), with a 3rd place finish in the qualifier and a 3rd place finish in the championship class. These awards put a perfect end to show season - and to a particularly difficult year.

Vickie says it best when she shares “It truly took a village to help me get here. I was blessed to have the A-team to support me. Thank you to Dr. Josh Alpert, Physical Therapist Dr. Jesse Larson, the team at Woodwind Farm; Bonnie Kittredge, Alex Fischer, Megan Kittredge, and my loving husband Jim Drendel.”

In case you wondered, the village mascot is Doug, of course.