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Menino has successful knee surgery

90-minute procedure repairs mayor’s tendon after fall Sunday

By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / November 10, 2009

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Mayor Thomas M. Menino is expected to be hospitalized at least through Thursday after undergoing emergency surgery yesterday to repair a knee injury he sustained in a fall at his son’s home in Hyde Park.

Menino, 66, was recovering at Brigham and Women’s Hospital last night after the operation to repair a severed tendon in his left knee. He may need to use crutches for several weeks, said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Thornhill, who reattached the tendon without incident during the roughly 90-minute surgery yesterday.

The mayor fell Sunday while carrying trays of food upstairs outside his son’s home at about 5:30 p.m. Menino “missed a step,’’ said his spokeswoman, Dot Joyce. Family members helped him into the house and summoned paramedics, who rushed the mayor by ambulance to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, according to EMS records.

Thornhill said the tendon connecting Menino’s thigh muscles to the top of his kneecap was completely torn away. During the surgery that began at about 10:30 a.m. yesterday, Thornhill drilled holes in Menino’s kneecap and used wire to stitch the tendon back in place. The mayor was given general anesthesia during the procedure.

“He’s in good spirits,’’ Thornhill said after the procedure.

The mayor, who won an unprecedented fifth, four-year term in office last week, had to call off his planned postelection vacation, which was scheduled to begin yesterday.

Menino notified City Council President Michael Ross, who would take over as mayor if Menino was unable to perform his duties, about his injury. But the mayor did not inform the public of his fall, hospitalization, or surgery until an inquiry from the Globe yesterday afternoon.

Joyce said she did not feel it was necessary to divulge what happened sooner because the mayor was scheduled to be on vacation in Bermuda, and the City Council president was notified.

“We did everything according to the law to ensure the public is taken care of in case of an emergency,’’ she said.

Ross said he was asked by the mayor’s office not to say anything about the injury. “They asked me to be discreet,’’ he said. “It’s the mayor’s choice to notify the public when and if he chooses.’’

But one public relations specialist said politicians have a responsibility to tell constituents when they are hospitalized, unless releasing the information would put public safety at risk.

“In this case, to me it just seems like unnecessary secrecy,’’ said Tobe Berkovitz, associate professor of mass communication and public relations at Boston University. “In this day and age, the more open and transparent that an administration is and a politician is, the better.’’

The mayor, who has been hospitalized eight times since taking office in 1993, has routinely been private about health problems in the past. He often took days to notify the public when he was ill, including in 2003, when doctors were probing a cancerous lump on his back, and the following year, when he was hospitalized and treated for Crohn’s disease. Menino said after the 2003 illness that he was reluctant to reveal details about his health problems because he had been disturbed by prying media coverage of his previous treatments for kidney stones in the 1990s.

Besides the removal of the cancerous lump and treatment of Crohn’s, he was admitted several times for severe abdominal pain and kidney stones between 1995 and 1997. In October 2008, Menino underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair cartilage torn when he slipped during a Red Sox championship rally the previous fall. The mayor hyperextended his right knee hoisting the World Series trophy at Fenway Park before the team’s victory parade.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.