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Rediscovering quality of life after knee replacement surgery

Virgil Warren has been active all his life. As a child, he was into sports. In middle age, he played basketball and regularly jogged four to five miles a day. In early retirement, he picked up roofing and remodeling work. But as he grew older, all that activity eventually led to knee pain.

“I started to jog every other day. Then when that got to be too much, I did half as far. Then I had to quit doing it altogether,” Warren said. “I always prided myself on trying to keep fit. It was pretty hard not to be active.”

A professor and minister by trade, a musician at heart, a father of four, a grandfather of 11, and a handyman who fell into a retirement career by accident, Warren put off the inevitable knee replacement until he couldn’t bend his knees more than 90 degrees.

“That made it a little awkward when I was putting shingles on the edge of a roof,” Warren said.

Finally, he sought the advice of orthopedic surgeon Dr. James McAtee, who confirmed Warren was a good candidate for knee replacement. He knew he couldn’t put off the surgery any longer if he wanted to maintain his lifestyle, so he and McAtee came up with a plan to replace both knees in summer 2010 — and have him ready to teach when K-State resumed classes in August.

Warren had his first knee replaced June 8 and the second done July 26. The hardest part? Forcing himself to stop working so his body could heal.

“Don’t tell my doctor, but after I had the first one done, I was out helping the guys in two and a half weeks.”

And two weeks after the second one, he was preparing to conduct a funeral service, already impressed that the pain was less than before the operation.

“I really don’t feel anything. It doesn’t hurt to stand on it,” Warren said. "It's a little numb, but there is no real pain."

Manhattan’s orthopedic physicians conducted nearly 300 total knee replacement surgeries at Mercy Regional Health Center last year. Each surgery lasts merely one to three hours, and patients are usually on their feet the same day — and home one to three days later.

Mercy has received national recognition for its joint replacement process, which Mercy’s Joint Care Center/Surgical Unit Director Annette Conrow, RN, BSN, attributes to the dedication of the staff.

“We have a very encouraging, patient-focused staff,” Conrow said.

Patients credit much of their success to strong communication and education prior to the surgery. Pre-surgery classes are scheduled a few weeks ahead, giving patients time to meet the staff, see the rooms, discuss medications and meals, and learn about the recovery process.

“I think that makes a big difference. People come in very prepared,” Conrow said. “They know what to expect every step of the way.”

Like Warren, who turns 68 this fall, most people need knee replacement because of overuse and arthritis — not an injury. It is common for people to need both knees done.

“If one side is worn out, the other is close,” Conrow said. “Most people who need one eventually will need the second.”

Such was the case for Zoe Ann Gugenhan of Randolph, who trusted Dr. Dan Hinkin with her left knee Sept. 22, 2009, and her right on Dec. 15 of the same year.
“I made up my mind that I can’t do what I want in life without doing both, so I just decided to do it,” Gugenhan said.

Prior to retirement, Gugenhan worked for the Blue Rapids Clinic for 27 years. A mother of three, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of five, she has spent much of her retirement relaxing on the road with her husband, Bill, in their RV.

When Hinkin advised her it wasn’t safe to climb the steps of her camper any longer — out of fear she’d fall and break something — she knew it was time.

“I could still get around, but slowly, and it was hard to get up. I kept telling myself, ‘It’s just stiff. It doesn’t hurt that bad.’ Yeah, right.”

Bill had had a knee replaced five years earlier, so she had been through the process and knew she could do it, too.

“The more you do what they tell you, the better off you are,” Gugenhan, now 68 years young, said. “My advice to others is just do it. If you don’t, regardless of how active you are, you aren’t going to have the quality of life you want.”

Retired realtor and real estate developer Rosalie Thompson always led an active life, operating her business, Thompson Realty, and developing residential real estate around Tuttle Creek Lake.

But as she developed osteoporosis, she began having pain in her knees. For five or six years, she got cortisone shots regularly, but the pain kept coming back. Her physicians told her to use what God gave her for as long as she could.

“That was good advice,” she said. “But eventually the pain was too much.”

Thompson went to long-time acquaintance Dr. William Jones for the surgery and chose to replace just her left knee — mainly so she could return to driving more quickly.
Post-surgery, she found the pain in her right knee subsided, most likely because she wasn’t favoring it any longer.

Her one regret, she says, is that she didn’t always stick to the prescribed rehabilitation plan.

“I’m not very disciplined, and I haven’t done my exercises like I should have. I would have recovered more rapidly had I been more disciplined.”

Just a few weeks after her surgery on April 7, 2009, she enjoyed a pain-free Memorial Day weekend — until she prematurely decided she could handle pruning her shrubs.

"It was never quite as good after that. But it was my fault. I didn’t do what they told me to do.”

Despite that one setback, she’s been able to return to her normal, active life. A mother of two and grandmother of four, she’s very involved with her family, her neighborhood, her church, K-State football and the local Republican women’s group.

And at 83, she still enjoys maintaining her own home — including yard work.

“There are many benefits, and much less pain,” Thompson said. “I can do just about anything I want.”

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