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Lansdale Athlete Rebounds to Hold Center Court After Simultaneous Total Knee Joint Replacement Surgery

Andy FagaAndy Faga, 65, has been playing racquetball for more than 35 years. During a recent doubles match, the Lansdale resident realized that certain circumstances had placed him in a select league, which is growing in popularity among active adults. What are the requirements of membership? Knee replacements.

“Of the four players sharing the court that day, three of us had undergone knee replacement surgery,” joked Andy, who underwent bilateral total knee replacement surgery in January 2016 at Abington – Lansdale Hospital. Knee joint replacement surgery was once considered to be the final treatment option for older, less active adults, who could no longer tolerate the joint pain.

During the past decade, however, advances in implant technology, surgical techniques, rehabilitation and pain management have allowed younger, energetic patients like Andy to resume the active lifestyles many thought they’d never experience again. Because Andy was also in overall good health, he met the criteria for bilateral joint replacement surgery (having both knees replaced at one time), which he decided to pursue after discussing his options with Andrew Star, MD, chief, Orthopedic Surgery at Abington – Jefferson Health, and member of the Rothman Institute.

When Arthritis Changes How You Live

Andy began to experience the effects of osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) in both knees when he was in his mid-50s. Over the course of the ensuing decade, he pursued conservative treatment, including a total of three rounds of an injection of medication directly into the knee joint, which effectively managed his pain over the years.

“I wasn’t in any hurry to have joint replacement surgery,” said Andy, “but with my last shot in 2014, I got no relief from the pain.” The effects of arthritis – pain, stiffness and loss of mobility – were significantly affecting his quality of life.

For an athlete who hit the courts at least twice a week for nearly four decades, losing out on racquetball was a game changer. The sport is much more to Andy than a way to remain fit and socially engaged. It is his passion. When knee pain interfered with racquetball, hiking, biking and other activities that brought meaning to his life, Andy followed through with his doctor’s referral to Dr. Star for a surgical consultation.

Bilateral Joint Replacement Is an Option for Some

Andy said learning he could have both diseased knees replaced simultaneously appealed to him because the procedure required only one hospitalization, and the rehabilitation period would be shorter overall. Dr. Star said potential candidates for a bilateral operation are those who are:

  • Under 80 years old.
  • Accustomed to exercising.
  • Relatively healthy.
  • Motivated to cooperate during rehabilitation to resume an active lifestyle quickly.
  • Tough.

“While you are recovering, you literally don’t have a good leg to stand on,” said Dr. Star. “You have to be willing to work hard to get back on your feet.”

Andy also appreciated Dr. Star’s vast experience with the latest techniques to promote rapid recovery for patients undergoing joint replacement surgery. These methods include modern surgical techniques, the latest pain control modalities and aggressive pre- and post-operative exercise programs to maximize function and recovery.

A Successful Outcome Depends on Choosing the Right Surgeon for the Right Reasons

Dr. Star advised that the most important considerations for a good surgical experience include:

  • Choosing a skilled surgeon who performs a large volume of these operations, with expertise in proper placement. “You want a surgeon who performs the surgery often and with precision, and makes good decisions for patients,” said Dr. Star.
  • Understanding that surgery needs to be performed for the right reasons.

“Expect an experienced surgeon to challenge you a bit if you have some risk factors that could lead to complications after surgery,” said Dr. Star. “For example, if you are obese, the doctor may recommend you lose weight before further consideration. Keep in mind, the surgeon is looking out for your best interests.”

Those who smoke, have diabetes, or cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, might not be good candidates for a bilateral procedure, because these factors can increase the likelihood of postsurgical complications.

Consider how to improve your health before you get to the point of choosing a surgeon. Get in shape. Eat healthfully, maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and remain as active as possible (without causing knee pain).

Clearly, Andy and Dr. Star were a good fit for a successful surgical outcome. Apparently, so are Andy’s new knees. Just three months after surgery, he was back on the racquetball court.“I’m playing better than I’ve played in years, with full range of motion and without pain,” said Andy. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”

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