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Dual knee injuries sideline veteran

A serious knee injury is serious business to a runner. There are the matters of surgery, rehabilitation, pain, and inconvenience.

But what about two serious knee injuries? To the same person? At the same time? When he wasn't even running?

That's what happened to veteran runner John Bell of Grand Island. Someday, Bell will be able to sit back and laugh at the thought of tying a record for bum knees that will never be broken.

"When I was in the room before surgery, I had people coming in saying, 'We've never seen two of them before. One, yes,' " Bell said.

The injuries took place at 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, when the 61-year-old was taking his dog outside. Really.

"We have a 17-year-old Shih Tzu who can't ambulate too well," he said. "I was carrying him from the house. Our cat went flying by, and I took my eyes off where I was stepping. I missed the steps. I came down with the dog in my hands, but my knees were bent [upon landing]."

Bell crawled to the couch and tried to move for the next few hours . . . and couldn't.

Oh -- the dog was fine.

Bell went to Erie County Medical Center at the first light of dawn, where doctors determined that Bell had ruptured tendons in both of his knees. By 2 o'clock, only 16 hours after the accident, the longtime member of the Lancaster Striders running club had surgery.

"They reattached things," he said. "They drilled holes in the kneecap, and stretched the tendons back to it. They sewed things up.

"He [the surgeon] did both at the same time. He had enough assistance to work on both legs."

Bell started to receive some therapy the next day, and quickly discovered how much having two bad legs can affect one's life, especially when that person is used to mobility.

"You can't do anything yourself," he said. "If I were a single guy, I would have ended up in assisted living for a while. My partner, Alice, and I are both retired, and she took care of me."

Bell was in splints for several weeks after the operation. He has been wearing braces and using crutches and a wheelchair as he slowly has gotten better. Bell believes that having two injured knees is far worse than having one.

"I have a feeling that it affects the recovery time," he said. "You don't have a good leg to hop around on a pair of crutches. The doctor told me that tendons take longer to heal than bones."

Bell usually runs about 35 to 40 miles per week and has been a runner since 1970, so he's not used to all this idle time. Bell reports that he's done a lot of reading in the past 11 weeks or so.

Bell hopes to be walking somewhat normally soon and at least thinking about breaking into a trot by the end of May. He believes that his favorite hobby has helped him recover faster.

"We know someone who broke a hip. It's someone who is overweight," Bell said. "They [doctors] can't do anything with that person until they get the weight down in terms of surgery. Being a runner, weighing 150 pounds or so, I don't have that problem.

"When I try to get around, I can at least maneuver myself. I can get out of a wheelchair. I'm not pushing a lot of weight around. Even though runners aren't body-builder types, someone who is a fairly serious competitor can move his body around."

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>Dedication

The Southside Track in Buffalo will be dedicated to Jack Donohue on Saturday. A sign will be placed on the entrance to the area, and it will be put up at 12:30 p.m.

The ceremony will be followed by a track meet between Mount Mercy and Nardin. Then at 4 p.m., a reception will be held at Charlie O'Brien's (across the street from the track). The admission fee of $20 will go toward the Jack Donohue Memorial Foundation.

The late Donohue was a running coach at Mount Mercy Academy. For more details, call Erik Bohen at 713-5654.

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>Race calendar

* FAMA 5K, Maryvale School Campus, 1050 Maryvale Dr., Cheektowaga, 11 a.m., Saturday, 633-8303.

* BPAC 6-Hour Distance Classic Ultra, Amherst Pepsi Center Parking Lot, 8 a.m., Apr. 29.

* Stomp Out Stigma 5K, Kiernan Recreation Center, Niagara Falls, 9 a.m., Apr. 29, 286-8503.

* Billittier Memorial 5K, 291 Seneca St., 9:30 a.m., May 5, 856-4202, ext. 228.

* Terri Krieger Memorial 5K, 189 North Gravel Road, Medina, 10 a.m., May 5, (585) 798-1676.

* GBTC Half Marathon (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), Beaver Island State Park, Grand Island, 10 a.m., May 5, 691-5575.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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