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Oh, Deer – The Orthopedic Adventure of a Minnesota Hunter


Jason Dukowitz takes a bite of grilled venison tenderloin. He savors the flavor and smiles. There’s just a hint of vengeance in the taste.

The deer, a nice buck, was one Jason’s brother harvested during the 2018 season. It’s also a whitetail that landed Jason in the ER at Lakewood Health. How you ask? Well, as the brothers were skinning the animal after their successful hunt, the cable suspending the hanging animal shifted somehow. The movement steered Jason’s skinning knife, held in his right hand, into the top of his left hand.

It wasn’t a deep wound, and it seemed like just another cut that hunters accrue over the years. But this slice was different. Jason’s middle finger immediately curled up and became as hard as a deer’s antler. He knew something was up.

His brother took him to the ER, where Jason got a few stitches for the cut – and a referral to Dr. Ashley Nord at Lakewood Health System. When Dukowitz met with Nord, she immediately identified that the knife blade had severed a tendon in Jason’s left hand. She scheduled him for surgery and ordered an x-ray as well, to ensure the knife hadn’t also etched or chipped a bone. It had not.

When Jason went under for surgery, he was grateful and anxious for the fix. Having an unusable finger, along with the pain that came with it, was unacceptable for Jason’s active lifestyle and his very physical job as an Environmental Services Manager at Lakewood. Yes, not only was Jason a patient at the hospital, but he’s also part of their team – and has been since 1994. IMG_2500 JASON cropped

Dr. Nord, a skilled orthopedic surgeon with countless tendon reattachment procedures under her belt, began Jason’s surgery with a precise 2-inch incision from behind the middle knuckle toward the wrist. She then went in, located the severed tendon, and stitched it back together.

When Jason awoke from anesthesia, he found his left hand in a splint from fingers-to-elbow. Total immobilization of the hand is critical to healing in tendon surgeries. It was also imperative he works with a Lakewood occupational therapist (OT) every week, for eight weeks, following surgery.

He enthusiastically attended every session with his OT, Abby Wicklund. She explained the physical science of his recovery while giving him the encouragement and confidence he needed to work through the scar tissue massages, range-of-motion stretches, and strength exercises – which weren’t always pleasant or easy. Today, Jason’s hand feels great. There’s still a little stiffness, but Wicklund assures him that is normal and will disappear as the year goes on.

Back at the dinner table, Jason takes another bite of venison and reflects on the event. He just turned 42 and counts himself lucky to have had just the tendon repair and a bunion procedure (also done at Lakewood) as his only two surgeries.

He looks across at his two young daughters who are just beginning to take to the woods with their dad. When the time comes, he’ll teach them how to skin a buck while keeping their hands away from the blade.