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From Shattered Elbow to Groundbreaking Mountain Climbs


By Michelle Brubaker   |   April 25, 2012
Ben Horne - Denali

April 25, 2012 - Mountaineer, Ben Horne, has accomplished athletic endeavors that most people never even attempt in a lifetime – he’s finished marathons, climbed Mt. Whitney, ran the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, and most recently, made the first winter ascent of the Evolution Traverse – an eight mile route that links nine peaks in the Sierra.

“Our team climbed 36 hours over four days, enduring temperatures as low as negative seven degrees Fahrenheit,” said Horne, an economics graduate student at UC San Diego.

But three years ago, Horne never thought he would step foot on a mountain again after shattering his elbow during a long distance bike ride.

“I thought this was it – my lifestyle is over,” said Horne.

His elbow was crushed in five pieces upon impact.

“Because he is young, and an athlete, the team wanted to preserve his natural bone. We also wanted to avoid a prosthetic replacement, which is commonly used but unpredictable in terms of longevity. As a cyclist, I understood the flexibility and stability that Ben would require for cycling, climbing and swimming well into the future,” said Reid Abrams, MD, chief of hand and microvascular surgery at UC San Diego Health.

During a delicate two-hour surgery, Abrams’ team re-built Horne’s elbow with a series of strategically placed plates, screws and pins woven with wire. After four months of healing, a second surgery was performed to remove hardware and to reduce bone adhesions to improve range of motion.

Ben Horne in Joshua Tree

Now, due to surgery, physical therapy and Ben’s tenacity, he can fully flex his elbow.

“For mountain climbing, you have to be able to pull yourself up under rigorous conditions,” said Horne. “Since my surgery with Dr. Abrams, I’ve been able to climb at even higher levels. I’m a stronger athlete now because I had to learn different sports from cross training during the recovery process.”

“As a surgeon, and someone who has recovered from his own hand injury after a biking mishap, I understand the need to get back to doing what you love,” said Abrams. “I encourage every athlete to continue to pursue their passion after an accident. With the right surgery and follow-up care, the results can be amazing. Ben proves it every day.”

Since the surgery, Horne has completed an ironman and climbed Mt. McKinley in Alaska, referred to as “Denali,” which stands 20,320 feet tall and is the highest mountain in the United States.

“These latest accomplishments are a big deal for me personally. As my rock climbing group says, ‘go big and don’t cut corners,’ and Dr. Abrams made it possible to do so – I am forever grateful.”

UC San Diego Health is deeply saddened about the loss of Ben Horne. He was an exceptional athlete, patient and friend. The whole sports medicine team continues to think of his family and Ben’s incredible achievements in the field of mountaineering,” Reid Abrams, MD, chief of hand and microvascular surgery at UC San Diego Health.

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