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One Man’s Staircase Is Another Man’s Mountain

Local man is on his way up after
bilateral knee replacement.

Mark Rickerson

Mark Rickerson

Mark Rickerson hated stairs. Simply standing at the bottom of a staircase felt like a bad dream. Trying to reach the top was an absolute nightmare. “People would tell me they could feel my pain just watching me struggle on each step,” recalls Mark.

At the age of 54, every activity Mark considered revolved around his knees. “The constant pain of bone-rubbing-on-bone arthritis affected every decision I made,” he says. Mark lived that way for five years and when he couldn’t take the pain any longer, a single decision transformed his life. Then he underwent bilateral total knee replacement at Abington Health’s Orthopaedic & Spine Institute (OSI) at Lansdale Hospital.

Like many people who develop osteoarthritis, Mark had a family history of the disease. He had also played high-contact sports in high school and got knocked around a quite a bit. Later, his occupation as a construction engineer was hard on his knees. Over the years, the trauma to his knee joints combined with his genetic predisposition to degenerative arthritis, caused the wearing-away of cartilage in his knees, essentially destroying the joints. He had tried prescription medications and injections for knee pain, but eventually, they stopped working.

“One morning I woke up and just couldn’t take it anymore,” says Mark. “I had had enough.” Mark discussed his surgical options with Andrew Star, MD, chief of Orthopaedic Surgery, Abington Memorial Hospital, and medical director, OSI, and opted to have both knees replaced at the same time.

“For a patient like Mark, who is healthy, active and young, a bilateral knee replacement is a good option,” explains Dr. Star. Among the advantages of the simultaneous procedure is that rehabilitation is shorter overall, the patient is only hospitalized once and requires anesthesia just once. Not everyone is a candidate for simultaneous knee replacement, however. Those with cardiovascular, pulmonary, or other diseases may be at higher risk for complications after bilateral surgery. “Having surgery on both knees at once also causes more physical and emotional strain,” says Dr. Star.

For Mark, the minimally invasive simultaneous joint replacement was a good choice. Dr. Star recommended a mobile bearing knee implant, comprised of the durable metals chromium and cobalt, with a plastic spacer. The plastic spacer, which replaces the cartilage, was designed to provide a more natural range of motion. With more than 150 knee replacement systems on the market today, the type of implant the surgeon chooses depends on the patient’s overall health, activity level, age and weight.

In addition to advances in implant design and materials, surgeons have developed less invasive approaches to surgery over the past 10 years. “Today, we can perform better, more accurate surgeries, in a less invasive way,” says Dr. Star, who has helped design the minimally invasive instrumentation used in these procedures. “The overall experience of joint replacement is better for the patient thanks to a combination of advances including smaller surgical incisions, refined instrumentation, better postsurgical rehabilitation protocols and better pain management,” says Dr. Star.

Mark attests that his entire experience at Lansdale Hospital made the postoperative pain and challenges of the bilateral knee replacement worthwhile. “Recovery was painful and very difficult,” he says, “but everyone who cared for me – from the doctors and nurses to the people from food service and housekeeping – was upbeat. They all showed concern about my pain and seemed as excited as I was about my progress.”

Upon returning home after 10 days in Lansdale Hospital, Mark sent the OSI and Rehab staff a singing thank-you card. He wrote, “Lansdale Hospital is a happy village for healing, where a culture of complete and compassionate patient care is profound.”

Mark and his wife, Leslie, are in the process of planning a trip to Italy in 2014, which will entail a great deal of walking and scaling more than a staircase or two. “Just months ago I couldn’t have even considered a trip like this. Now, I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” he says.

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