Since her childhood, Ilana Zeises, DO, has always worked toward a goal. She began swimming competitively at age five, started springboard diving at age eight, and eventually became a standout on the women’s diving team at Penn State.
“I’m not good at just working out,” she says. “I need to be an athlete and training for something.”
After college, Zeises, a sports medicine physician with Upper Bucks Orthopaedics at Grand View Health, started running competitively, then biking, with a goal of becoming a triathlete. But a serious bicycle accident in October 2021 brought an unexpected challenge.
She was breaking in a new triathlon bicycle on the roads near her house. “I was riding in aero position, with my arms straight in front, and you have no access to your brakes when you do that,” she says. She started to turn. “I got scared,” she says. “I tried to bail out and go for my brakes.”
She lost control, flipped over the handlebars, and landed on her head. She picked herself up but knew she needed help fast.
When Doctor Becomes a Patient
Soon after, Zeises was receiving care inside the Level II Adult Trauma Center at Grand View Health. There, she met with Howard Eisenbrock, DO, a board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeon with Grand View Health Neurosurgery.
“The first question I asked him was, can I run the Philly Marathon next month?” she said.
The answer, unfortunately, was no. “She had suffered a concussion and had started to develop arm pain soon after the accident,” Dr. Eisenbrock says. “But the biggest concern was a C7 facet fracture in her neck that caused an injury to the nerve root that sits in the cervical spine.”
Zeises had hoped to avoid surgery, so Dr. Eisenbrock put her neck in a hard collar and gave her pain medicine and steroids to help facilitate healing. “But 12 hours later, I still had a ton of weakness and pain,” Zeises says. Dr. Eisenbrock had no choice but to perform a fusion surgery to repair her cervical fracture. That surgery was a success.
A New Goal – and a Setback
As she began her physical therapy and rehabilitation, Zeises set a fresh goal: competing in her first half-ironman triathlon in Geneva, N.Y., in July 2022. She made it, completing a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.
But as she trained, she noticed some new symptoms — pain caused by a herniated disc just above the location of her cervical fusion surgery. To fix it, she had a second fusion surgery from Dr. Eisenbrock four days after she ran the half-ironman.
“Dr. Eisenbrock is great,” Zeises says. “He’s honest, kind, caring and understanding, and he only did surgery when it was most appropriate and beneficial to me.”
Zeises was cleared to resume running six weeks after her second surgery, and she’s now getting back to top form. She competed in a sprint triathlon in Warrington in September 2022, winning her age group and finishing in third place overall. A week later, she won her age group in the Marshman Sprint Triathlon — a 750-meter swim, 20K bike ride and 5K run — in Downingtown.
Getting Stronger Every Day
Zeises continues building back her strength through physical therapy. Her personal journey, she says, has given her a fresh perspective on being a doctor.
“This experience has helped me expand my empathy and truly understand what my patients are going through,” she says. “As a patient, I listened to what my doctors said and tried to do as much as I could within those limits. I try to do that with my patients as well — to work with them to modify what their sport is so they can participate as much as possible.”
Learn more about the Level II Adult Trauma Center at Grand View Health. Visit GVH.org/trauma.
Pursuing a Passion for Sports Medicine
For the past few years, Ilana Zeises, DO, worked as both a family medicine and sports medicine physician, with a goal of practicing sports medicine full-time. On January 1, she reached that goal. She now sees sports medicine patients exclusively at Upper Bucks Orthopedics locations in Colmar, Dublin and Sellersville.
“I performed a sports medicine fellowship and trained by working with the New York Jets,” Zeises says. “I love family medicine, but have a passion for sports medicine, and I’m excited to be able to do that full-time.”
To make a sports medicine appointment, call 215-257-3700.