Tuesday, July 14, 2020
St. Luke’s Surgeon Happy to Be Back Doing What She Does Best
Dr. Alison Kinsler completed medical school training at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College of Virginia before completing her residency at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii.
Monday, June 1, 2020


Blaine County had just recorded its first two cases of coronavirus as Dr. Alison Kinsler headed to the Sawtooth Mountains for a winter vacation on March 15.

She left her cellphone in her car, knowing she’d be out of cellphone range as she camped out in a tent, enjoying backcountry skiing and ice climbing activities.

“I just assumed I would come back and do seven surgeries I was slated to do the following week,” said Kinsler, who specializes in sports medicine, shoulder surgery and general orthopedics.


She got her first hint that that would not be the case as she drove home from the Sawtooths to find a blinking sign outside Ketchum: “Isolation Order in Effect. Non-Essential Travel Prohibited.”

“I didn’t know what that meant. And Ketchum was a ghost town,” she said

She made a quick call to her physician’s assistant and to Dr. Matt Kopplin, with whom she works with at Sun Valley Sports Medicine clinic. And she learned she would not be performing any surgeries at all that week.

St. Luke’s Wood River had suspended elective and non-emergent surgeries as staff scrambled to take care of a burgeoning number of COVID cases, even among two of its emergency room physicians.

“We had two cases when we were leaving and we were up to 50 when we got back,” she recounted. “The hospital was effectively shut down. The office was not open.”

Kinsler spent the next two weeks during which the clinic was closed taking care of her patients by phone. She touched base with them to make sure their incisions were okay. She made sure they had been in contact with physical therapists to get exercises they could do at home since the rehabilitation clinic was also closed.

She saw post-op patients who needed to be seen by screen.

“We all understood the gravity of the situation. We were just trying to be supportive of our doctors and our primary care doctors, be patient and do what we could to take care of our patients who were patiently waiting for their surgeries,” she said.

With her office closed, she skied a lot. But it wasn’t relaxing. She worried. Was her family going to be safe? Was her 70-year-old mother going to get the coronavirus.

“I felt like I was in the Army, deployed again, sitting around waiting until something happened,” said Kinsler, a former Division I soccer player who served in the U.S. Army for nine years as an orthopedic surgeon. “I did not get sick and I tested negative for antibodies. I think I was lucky because I was gone that week that our cases started spiking.”

Finally, in April, Kinsler and other orthopedic surgeons were allowed to take care of fractures so they wouldn’t have to send those patients to Boise and Twin Falls.

The first fracture that came in was memorable simply because it was the first orthopedic case Kinsler had taken care of in a few weeks.

“Typically, that time of the year is busy because of ski injuries. But with the mountain closed and people scared to be out and around other people, we weren’t terribly busy in terms of accidents,” she said. “Most of those we took care of had cut their fingers or otherwise injured themselves doing home renovations.

“Now that the weather has improved and people are feeling a little safer because COVID cases have been plateauing, we have been getting the typical injuries we see this time of year, such as broken clavicles incurred during mountain biking,” she added.

Kinsler and her fellow physicians got the word they’d been waiting for last week: They could start hacking away on the backlog of patients who had been waiting for shoulder surgeries, knee and hip replacements.

“I think everybody is so excited that we can get back to some semblance of normalcy and certainty. Our surgical team is happy to be back at work. We all love our job and miss our work family,” she said.  “But, it’s been a bit of a challenge as the situation is evolving. Many of us are used to being busy, and now we have a pretty big backlog of cases.”

She and Dr. Kopplin are trying to be as fair as they can be, taking those who were scheduled for surgery the week the hospital closed down first and going through the remainder of those scheduled for surgery chronologically.

“We have some folks who are debilitated by their pain, people who are having a hard time walking because of the pain of arthritis. What happened is frustrating because people plan their whole summer around their joint surgeries,” she said.

“But the last thing anybody wants to see is that we open too soon, too quickly and then end up having to shut down again in the fall. I think we are trying to be smart and methodical so, hopefully, we can avoid another spike and avoid having to shut down for six to eight weeks.

To do that the hospital is trying to minimize the number of people in the hospital. It’s also instituting new practices.

For instance, it’s addressing the air particles that emanate from patients while being intubated with a breathing tube. The ventilation system in each of the surgical rooms has been tested to see how long it takes the air particles to settle to the floor.

Each room is assigned a time stamp. And, once a patient is intubated, the room is closed down until the timer goes off. Only then are physicians and attendants allowed to enter.

All surgical candidates will undergo testing for COVID and then self-quarantine for two days before they get their surgery done.

Both the hospital and clinic are still maintaining social distancing. They’re wearing masks. They’re screening everyone who comes in. The same is being done at St. Luke’s Rehab, whose therapists help post-op patients prevent stiffness.

Everyone is allowing more space in between clients, as well.

“Typically, I see patients every 15 minutes. Now I’m seeing them every 30 minutes to space people out so that we don’t have people in our waiting room,” said Kinsler. “That not only protects our patients but our staff, as well.”


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