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Back in the hunt: New knee helps Hutchinson resident return to the field

It's 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Kayla Hemberger is quizzing patient Herb Weigel on the details of his life.

What is your birthdate? What’s today’s date? What’s your address?

Herb, 77, is waking up from anesthesia. Only a few hours earlier, a surgeon replaced his worn-out left knee with a metal-and-plastic version. Hemberger, physical therapist, is making sure Herb is ready to test his new knee with a stroll down the hallway at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis.

“Did I pass the test?” Herb asks with a grin.

He did, and within minutes he’s holding a walker,

Hemberger at his side, taking his first steps toward recovery. It’s November 2014, and Herb has a goal: Pheasant season ends Jan. 31, and he wants to get back out in the field with his hunting dogs — new knee and all.

“That was a piece of cake,” Herb says as he returns to his hospital bed. “I even surprised myself.”

Day 2

Herb is the kind of man who punctuates each sentence with “ma’am” or “sir,” a product of both his military service and his customer service — he worked at Dillons in Hutchinson for 46 years, much of that time as store manager.

In many ways, he’s the ideal patient for total joint replacement surgery, says John R. Schurman II, MD, medical director of Via Christi’s new Joint Replacement Center.

“He has a willingness to work at it,” says Dr. Schurman, a surgeon with Advanced Orthopaedic Associates. “He knows the harder he works, the better he will recover. He wants to get back to enjoying his life.”

Herb is among the first patients to have total knee replacement surgery at the Joint Replacement Center. The center is part of a network of more than 180 hospitals nationwide committed to the highest quality care in hip and knee replacement procedures. The centers use a two-prong approach: Focus on a positive patient experience, and provide surgeons, nurses and therapists with best practices to get patients back to their regular lives as soon as possible.

On the morning after his surgery, Herb attends his first group therapy. Misty Yandel, physical therapy assistant, guides patients through a series of exercises outlined on a laminated card — bending their knees and stretching their legs to increase their range of motion.

“Hey, look at that!” Yandel tells Herb. “I’m impressed!”

Day 3

It’s Thursday morning, and Herb has one more group therapy session before he’s scheduled to go home. He had his right knee replaced a year ago, and he encourages his fellow patients with the voice of experience.

“You listen to this young lady and follow her instructions,” Herb says of Yandel, “and you’ll be just fine.”

After therapy, Herb walks to the Joint Replacement Center’s ambulation board, where therapists track how far each patient walks during his or her stay. He smiles as he moves his magnet down the board.

As his friend Sam picks him up to go home, Herb tells the staff member pushing his wheelchair about his three experiences at St. Francis — a heart procedure in the mid-1990s, and now two knee replacements.

“I love this hospital,” he says. “I really do.”

Reunion

Two months later, in early January of this year, Herb returns to St. Francis with his wife, Ines. He’s not even limping.

The center is hosting its first reunion of patients who’ve had joint replacement surgery. Dr. Schurman notes there are no wheelchairs or walkers in the room.

“Our goal in kicking off this program was to make your lives better,” he says. “This is a patient-centered experience. Your feedback is extremely valuable.”

Herb completed four weeks of outpatient therapy right before Christmas. He says he’s been pushing himself by spending time doing yard work.

“You just have to keep moving,” he says. “It’s worked out really, really well.”

And he’s keeping an eye on the weather, looking for an unseasonably warm winter day to take his dogs out hunting.

“I don’t have to shoot a bird,” he says. “I’m just out there for the fresh air — and a good walk.”