New Hope After Knee Replacement Surgery
Carolyn Meyer has never been one to pass up an opportunity for adventure in her life.
A love for the outdoors caused her to spend most of her free time biking and walking in her own neighborhood and hiking on beautiful trails throughout the United States. A drive to succeed led her to open a thriving specialty toy store. She never shied away from challenges, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would face with the onset of arthritis in her left knee.
The pain began five years ago, first as a minor frustration, but eventually growing into an all-consuming pain. She went from adjusting how she walked to redefining how she spent her free time. At the time, she was seen by an orthopedic surgeon, who initially treated the arthritis by injecting a natural substance into her knee to lubricate and cushion her joint. When that didn’t seem to help, she underwent arthroscopic knee surgery- a Minimally-invasive procedure that removes arthritic tissue surrounding the knee.
The surgery left Carolyn more frustrated. She spent weeks in agonizing pain and when that finally subsided she found her knee was only slightly better than when her journey to treat it first began. She felt as if her options had run out and opted to move on with life as best she could.
Forced to find an answer
The plan worked for a couple of years until the pain returned in the fall of 2011. She tried to ignore it. After all, the Christmas season was approaching and soon her store, Blue Turtle Toys, would be buzzing with customers visiting the Shops of Oakwood. Somehow she muscled through, carrying boxes of orders from her store’s basement storage area to its upstairs displays.
“I couldn’t carry things up the steps,” Carolyn recalls. “I would put things in a tub and take it one step at a time. It was a horrible process for restocking. I would actually have to pull myself up the steps with both hands on the handrail.”
Somehow she made it through the holiday season, but her knee wasn’t giving up its fight. Finally on a cold night in January she was faced with a frightening reality. She had taken her dog for a walk and when she got to a park her knee gave out prohibiting her from taking another step. Frightened, she reached for her cell phone and realized she had left it at home. In an instant, she found herself alone and helpless in a park with no one in sight to help.
“I was in so much pain I couldn’t take another step,” Carolyn said. “I thought if I kept moving it around that maybe I could walk and I eventually was able to get to my car.”
Carolyn knew she had to push aside her reservations about seeing another doctor despite how her last surgery ended. A recommendation led Carolyn to Matthew Lawless, MD, with Wright State University Orthopedics and Sports Medicine.
Finding new hope
Carolyn had an idea that this experience would be different when she first met with Dr. Lawless and for the first time felt hope about regaining the activities she had forfeited five years before.
“I really felt confident about walking after that appointment. I had gained more information about my knee in that 30-minute meeting than I had with any doctor before,” the 62-year-old woman said.
Dr. Lawless walked Carolyn through her options, including additional physical therapy, steroid injections or a complete knee replacement. Given her age, the advancement of her arthritis, and the fact that all other treatments had little to no success, Dr. Lawless concluded that a knee replacement was the best option. Carolyn felt at ease with his assessment and shortly after leaving his office she decided that surgery was what she wanted.
Unlike her first surgery, Carolyn felt extremely well-prepared and empowered with the information she needed to make it a success. She attended a class before the surgery where a physical therapist educated her about exercises she should do before the surgery and what her rehabilitation would be like afterward.
“The coolest thing for me was to be able to see a piece of the knee,” Carolyn said. “I really wanted to see it and I wanted to know what was going into me and how it worked. It was so informative and it gave me a sense of control over the whole situation.”
Carolyn received her new knee on Valentine’s Day 2012 at Miami Valley Hospital’s new orthopedic surgery center and returned home two days later. Her physical therapy began almost immediately after surgery, including constant elevation for the knee and icing to keep the swelling down. To her surprise, pain was kept a minimum and she was even able to walk up a flight of stairs while still in the hospital.
Carolyn abided by her therapist’s rules and religiously did her exercises four times every day. She kept her leg elevated and constantly iced. As a reward, she found herself trading her walker for a cane a little over two weeks after surgery.
“The therapist told me something in that class,” Carolyn recalls. “He said, ‘When the surgeon leaves the operating room his job is finished. When you come to therapy we show you what you need to do and then we’ve done our job. In the end, it really comes down to you doing your job.’ I knew doing the therapy and exercises was my responsibility.”
The success Carolyn experienced was no different than a lot of patients who come to MVH’s orthopedic and sports medicine center. The center boasts some of the best outcome numbers in the nation and has become known for its ability to get patients back on their feet again at a quick rate.
“The first time we see a patient we are already talking about prehab protocol, including the stretching and strengthening exercises they need to do before they even enter surgery,” Dr. Lawless said. “Once the surgery is complete, we start them on an aggressive post-op regime, which includes elevation, icing and activity restriction to help with the swelling. Controlling the swelling is key. If you can control that then it allows the patient to do much better.”
A total knee replacement is often the best option for individuals, like Carolyn, who are over the age of 50 and have no other hope. The surgery is performed once disease has progressed and conservative measures have failed. Ninety to 95 percent of normal knee replacements last at least 10 years or longer depending on the activity level of a person.
A week after having surgery, Carolyn began working from home and three months later she was able to go into her shop again. Today, she’s thankful that she can take her dog on small walks and hopes that soon she’ll be able to add lawn work and gardening to her list again. She realizes she may never be able to go on the long hikes that she once did in Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Parks, but she believes that hiking is still in her future.
Right now, Carolyn feels extremely grateful for a second chance.
“It is a testimonial to the scientific aspect of this whole thing,” Carolyn said. “I love their approach. (The surgery) might not be for everyone, but it certainly was right for me.”