Years not yards important to this former football fanatic

The year was 1985. Ronald Reagan was president. Teens across the US were listening to Mr. Mister and Whitney Houston. Troy Hardeman, then 13, dressed for his first day of freshman football at Moweaqua High School.

“I was always a little heavy growing up. Football was the first place that was going to help me,” Hardeman said. A few minutes of blissful play in, a partially torn ACL halted his dreams and shattered his confidence.

Six months later, Dr. Robert Gurtler performed a successful reconstructive arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday the 13th. The surgery was a success, but Hardeman suffered 80 percent cartilage loss.

Hardeman said he was thankful for many things that day. Walking. Football. Family. But mostly for his surgeon’s calm, caring and candid demeanor.

While he has faced challenges and may need future treatment, Hardeman is taking the time three decades later to express his gratitude. As a veteran surgeon Dr. Gurtler understands the immediate implications on the field and the impact down the line. 

“We take great care to ensure that athletes don’t play until an injury is fixed. We do what we can to stabilize it and prevent permanent damage,” Gurtler said.

A second surgery placed a ligament around the kneecap protecting it, serving as substitute cartilage. Then the waiting game.

“I’m eternally thankful for being respected as a patient. I was only 13 yet Dr. Gurtler made sure I was understanding all that was happening. He helped me accept the situation so it wasn’t a surprised and I wasn’t panicked when rehab started,” Hardeman said.

The process was exhausting, but Dr. Gurtler’s calm demeanor reassured the teen.

“He made no promises, but I always felt optimistic,” Hardeman said. Then the news came: he would likely face significant arthritis in his early 20s due to his injuries. Undeterred, Hardeman returned to playing field the next fall.

“Football was tied to my confidence and self-esteem,” he said. “The doctor gave that back to me, which was even more important than being able to walk.”

Hardeman remained active in sports through college and recreational leagues and coached his children’s sports teams into his 30s. Then the father of four started to gain weight as his activity level slowed.

“My knee would get tired and sometimes sore, but would never give out and never failed to let me squat down and catch for one of our pitchers,” he said.

When he got winded jogging, though, he knew it was time to get back in shape.

About 18 months ago, he began walking four to five miles a day and watching his diet. Exercise aggravated his knee and caused setbacks. Walking and weight training re-built strength.

“About 45 days ago at age 45 I began doing the ‘Insanity’ program. It is a pretty intense interval-training program with a lot of focus on cardio, core strength, stretching and circuit training,” Hardeman said

Over the course of the last year and a half, he’s lost 80 pounds. People are noticing, including his wife who said he no longer snores.

“Who would have thought at my age with a 32-year-old reconstructed knee that I would be able to the activities that I am doing on a daily basis now? My quality of life is the highest it has been in decades,” he said.

He owes his active lifestyle today to his surgery years ago and Dr. Gurtler’s work. Hardeman never wonders if he’ll be able to play on the floor with his grandkids (when he has some) but knows that knee replacement is likely in his future.

“It’s an inevitable outcome for me, but could make it to age 50 or 70 or even further before it’s needed,” he said.  

Because he’s taking great care of his knee, following doctor’s orders for rehab and preventing further injury, Gurtler believes this knee will last him into retirement.