Cancer Center News

Running a marathon was Alfred Buccilli's dream growing up in Revere, Mass.

One man's medical care journey at the MGH allows him to run the marathon

21/Apr/2010

Buccilli runs the Falmouth Marathon in 1993.

On April 19, Buccilli sets out again to the Boston Marathon course.

Running a marathon was Alfred Buccilli's dream growing up in Revere, Mass. At the age of 25, he ran his first Boston Marathon in 1987, and he went on to compete as a competitive runner in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Montreal and around the country. He estimates that he's put in thousands of miles -- equal to running the distance around the earth's equator twice.

But what makes Buccilli's story different from other zealous runners' is that Buccilli was told as a young man that he would not be able to run at all. As a boy, he was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, a rare joint disorder in which cracks form in the cartilage and bone. For Buccilli, the condition caused him chronic pain and stiffness in his knees. As a young adult, the pain grew too intense to ignore. He went to his doctor and was told that he should undergo surgery to remove a loose piece of bone, but the results would be that he would not be able to run or play sports again.

Hope at the MGHAs luck would have it, in 1983, shortly after scheduling the surgery, Bucilli saw an article in the Boston Globe entitled, "New Advancements in Knee Surgery." The article mentioned arthroscopic surgery, which was at the time a new procedure. One of the procedure's pioneers, Dinesh Patel, MD, chief of Arthroscopic Surgery at MGH, also was featured in the story. Buccilli canceled his surgery and visited Patel for another surgical option. Patel performed arthroscopic surgery on Buccilli's knee in January 1984, leaving Buccilli free from any knee pain.

One step forward, two steps back Then, in 2004, Buccilli experienced a setback after falling from a ladder and crushing his left tibia. He credits R. Malcolm Smith, MD, chief of Orthopaedic Trauma Services, with performing emergency surgery to correct his injuries. Unfortunately, Buccilli developed an infection in his ankle as well as a neurological syndrome that caused him to have to have his left leg elevated. He says that during this time his foot was locked in one position with no flexibility.

Determined to walk and be free of the pain, Buccilli went to see Richard J. deAsla, MD, co-director of the MGH Foot and Ankle Service. He followed deAsla's rehabiliation therapy instructions despite experiencing immense pain.

Determined to run again "Dr. deAsla explained what exercises to do, and I did them faithfully around the clock for several years," says Buccilli of his therapy that began in 2004. "It was a challenge more difficult than any marathon. At times I laid in a fetal position crying from the pain."

Today at the age of 48, Buccilli ran his 22nd Boston Marathon on April 19. He admits that he no longer is a front runner, but he says the back of the pack works for him because he is once again in the game experiencing the thrill of the race.

Reflections and gratitude

"This is really about the human spirit," says Patel. "It's about the human spirit with some help from health care providers with modern technology."

Of his experience at the MGH throughout the years, Buccilli says he is grateful. "I believe my love for marathon running was made possible by a gift given to me by the great doctors of the Orthopaedic Department at the MGH," he says. "And for this gift, I thank Dr. Dinesh Patel, Dr. R. Malcolm Smith, and Dr. Richard J. deAsla. I will never forget what they did for me. And a special thanks to all the nurses and staff of the MGH for providing a sanctuary for healing."

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