When Sasha Barausky isn't skiing, swimming, kayaking, running or biking, he's competing in triathlons. He's a husband, a father and a busy executive who often travels worldwide for his job as director of product management. In order to balance his work and family life, he enjoys participating in these athletic competitions.
"It keeps me centered," he says. "I will admit I have two qualities, good or bad, I am ruthlessly competitive, and I'm stubborn."
As a child, Sasha could bounce back from injuries sustained during downhill BMX bike competitions, but as an adult, three bike crashes in recent years have led to seven broken bones. He received care at multiple Massachusetts General Hospital locations over several years, working with teams of orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists to build a multidisciplinary approach to his recovery.
Sports Injury, Treatment, Recovery, RepeatOne weekend in 2006, Sasha was biking at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover when he crash-landed at a bad angle, bending his left hand backward. He got up, put his bike on his back, walked an hour to get out of the woods and drove to Mass General in Boston.
In the Mass General Emergency Department, he was x-rayed, splinted, and sent home to rest. Monday morning, Chaitanya Mudgal, MD, an orthopedic hand surgeon at Mass General, reached out to Sasha directly. Dr. Mudgal had seen Sasha's x-ray in the Mass General system, and recognized that with four spiral-fractured metacarpals in his left hand, Sasha was an ideal candidate for internal fixation with a seldom utilized technique, involving screws only.
"He reconnected my four bones with 11 screws only days after the injury," says Sasha.
While a typical surgery for that type of injury would involve plates and a long period of recovery, this unique approach used only screws and therefore healed much faster.
After a few months of occupational therapy to regain his flexibility and strength, Sasha's hand was strong enough to grip the handlebars, so he could get back on the bike and return to conquer the same rocky path in Andover.
A few years later, Sasha was tackling an especially aggressive obstacle on his mountain bike when he fell and broke a bone in his other hand. This time, he drove himself to Brigham and Women's Hospital for an x-ray and emailed Dr. Mudgal right away. Dr. Mudgal responded to his email before Sasha had even left the emergency room.
"Once again, Dr. Mudgal's aggressive recovery plan, followed by lots of physical therapy, got me right back on my bike," Sasha says. "It is like I never broke the five bones in the first place."
These injuries didn't slow Sasha down. In March 2019, Sasha crashed again while biking during a business trip to China. This time, the injury was even more extreme—he shattered his leg.
"I was in training, because I was planning on competing at amateur nationals for Olympic triathlons," Sasha says.
Out on an early morning bike ride, he came around the corner of a steep hillside, and his bike slid out on some green algae that covered the road. He crashed and landed on his feet, but, when he looked down, he noticed his left foot was facing backwards.
"I shattered my tibia, fibula and dislocated my ankle," he says.
With the help of a coworker, he managed to find his way to a Chinese hospital, where they turned his ankle back around without the aid of pain killers. His leg was stabilized in China, but he insisted on coming home to Mass General for surgery. During the flight, he developed blood blisters in his leg, which made his condition even more severe.
A New Surgical Approach
Back at home, he met with one of Dr. Mudgal's colleagues, foot and ankle surgeon and sports medicine specialist Gregory Waryasz, MD, and discussed his options for surgery. In addition to multiple fractures, the blisters prevented a traditional surgical approach. When Dr. Waryasz suggested that Sasha could wait a few weeks to let the blisters heal before the surgery, Sasha asked if there were any other options. Together, they agreed on an unconventional approach that involved Dr. Waryasz operating from different angles to get around the blisters to reach the bones. Instead of waiting for months, the surgery was done days later using a combination of multiple plates and screws to rebuild his shattered leg. A follow-up surgery months later removed some of that hardware and improved his range-of-motion once the bones had healed and the ligament connecting the tibia and fibula had stabilized.
A Recovery Plan to Get Back in the Game
Dr. Waryasz partnered with Jennifer Green, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, who Sasha had requested because of her experience working with professional athletes. Green outlined a plan for rehabilitation that charted out when Sasha could start putting weight on his leg and when he could gradually reintroduce each of his beloved extreme activities.
"They both constantly put it back in my court," Sasha says. "That really helped me, because I'm a driven type of person. We used my stubbornness. I couldn't compete in my normal sports, but I could compete in PT."
After each crash, Sasha and his medical team worked to find the best plan—one that would help him recover as quickly as possible, so that he could get back to competing. Sasha's hometown admiration for Mass General was tempered by his team's recognition that he deserved the best care possible regardless of the building housing his doctors. Mass General Brigham doctors collaborated across institutions to develop a unique treatment plan tailored to Sasha and convenient to where he works and plays.
"I always felt like the plan was built for me, and it was like a three-legged stool," Sasha says. He adds, "It was an ongoing conversation between myself, the physical therapist and the doctor."
Today, after three surgeries, three plates, approximately 30 screws and months of physical therapy, Sasha's competitive drive is stronger than ever, with no plans to stop.