A former Pittsburgh police lieutenant's story of recovery from a severe leg injury is being promoted as an example for other patients to follow.
Richard Pritchard is one of the hundreds featured on "A Nation in Motion," a website created by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to encourage patients to pursue their mobility.
The 48-year-old's life -- an active one that involved running, bow hunting and lifting weights -- changed dramatically June 9, 2010, when a Homewood man led police on a car chase and then crashed his Lincoln Navigator into a police car, severely injuring two officers, including Lt. Pritchard, whose left leg was badly damaged.
He was taken to UPMC Mercy for an initial surgery, and afterward was unable to stand on both legs and had to use a wheelchair. But he decided he would get back on his feet -- literally -- and he began a process of surgery, rehab and recovery that stretched over more than a year, often attending physical therapy sessions four days a week, up to five or six hours a day.
"It was pretty much my job," he said. "It was my job to get better."
In all, Lt. Pritchard had four surgeries, including a procedure to fix a blood clot and reconstruction of his ACL, moving from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches to being able to walk and run, and finally to return to work.
"He was an excellent patient," said Christopher Harner, an orthopedic surgeon who is medical director for the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. Without surgery and intense physical therapy, Lt. Pritchard might have lost his lower leg function and been unable to get around without the help of a wheelchair or walker, Dr. Harner said. Instead, within a year of being hit by a car, he had restored his knees to 80 to 90 percent of normal function.
He still has pain and walks with a limp, and it is likely he'll need more surgery in the future. But he resumed full duty at Pittsburgh's Zone 5 station in August 2011, successfully passing the physical tests required to be an officer. That included being able to run uphill for 12 minutes on a treadmill and kneel on his right knee and pivot while aiming a pistol and a rifle.
"He made a remarkable recovery," Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor said.
Lt. Pritchard retired June 27 after 20 years as a police officer, and at the beginning of July, he started his new job as chief of security and safety at South Side Area School District in Beaver County. It's a job that involves walking the hallways and school grounds.
To those who may find themselves as he did, injured and unable to walk, he offered encouragement: "I'd say, just to keep trying and never lose hope. Never stop working to get better."
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.