By Sharon Harrington, Nanticoke Health Services
Knee replacement surgery isn’t a new thing. In fact, it has been around 1968. But, as with many things in life, techniques and technology have evolved – making joint replacement surgery less painful and allowing for an easier, faster recovery.
For many, this provides great hope to once again get back to work and back to the things they love to do. Living a life without knee pain is life changing. This is especially true for Erin Harris, a 36 year old woman living in Dover.
When she was just 3 years old, Erin suffered a stroke, leaving her left side just a little weaker than her right; the first contributor to her knee pain. Being weak on the left side meant she favored her right knee. But this didn’t slow her down. As a young adult she enjoyed playing sports, hiking, and especially running; regularly running 5 miles a day. She remembers having some pain as she grew up but always thought it was because she over did it during soccer games or after a long run. But over time, relying more heavily on her right knee began to wear on the joint.
As an adult Erin recalls working in a retail store and one day taking a little fall. She heard a pop in her knee. “At the time I knew it didn’t sound right and it hurt, but I was young and just worked through it,” said Erin. “It got better and I didn’t think about it for a while. But the pain came back and, as time went on, it got worse and worse.”
In 2005, Erin went to see an orthopedic (bone) doctor. She had her first knee procedure – an arthroscopy – to clean out loose cartilage in her knee. It worked, for a while. In 2009, she had to go back to the doctor because the pain had returned. She had a lateral release to realign her knee cap. Again it worked, for a while. Next was a high tibial osteotomy, a procedure that helps realign the knee to take pressure off the damaged side of the knee by wedging the upper portion of the tibia. Erin has also had to have bone grafts and a metal bar in her leg to try to bring her legs to her same length. She has had steroid shots and drainage several times to help relieve the knee pain and discomfort. But always, the pain returned.
As she researched options, Erin felt knee replacement might be the best option for long-term relief. But, she is a young woman. Many doctors wouldn’t discuss knee replacement with her because of her age. You see, having a knee replacement in your thirties just isn’t typical.
“It was awful to watch Erin in such pain,” said Jennise Harris, Erin’s wife. “We’ve been together over 10 years, married for six, and Erin has always been very active. Little by little she has lost the things she loves to do. It reached a point where she was in constant pain. She couldn’t do anything. It was very hard. When you love someone so much, watching them hurt so much is almost unbearable.”
The pain also kept Erin from doing things with their children. They have a 17 year old son, Jalen, and a daughter, Kennedy, now in college. Their third “child”, Atlas, also suffered. He is a very active young dog who misses running with Erin.
“I watched Jennise and the kids but I couldn’t keep up,” Erin said. “It was very frustrating. But then I met Dr. Eakin. He did some tests to look at my knee and reviewed all my medical information. Then he said – let’s do knee surgery – music to my ears!”
Using Nanticoke Health Services’ newest technology – the Stryker Mako Robotic Arm Assisted Surgery – Dr. Eakin began planning for a knee replacement for Erin. The Mako system uses a CT scan to map a person’s knee – allowing for a surgical plan to be developed in advance of the procedure. The mapping allows for more precise removal the diseased bone and provides a better fit for the implant – a fit customized to each person’s anatomy.
“With all the things I’ve been through, I really liked that Dr. Eakin wasn’t going into the surgery blindly. He had a plan just for me,” says Erin. “I went to Nanticoke’s Joint Camp before surgery as well. I had all my questions answered, I knew what was involved with the surgery, and I knew what to expect afterwards. I felt very prepared. I was extremely comfortable with the plan going into the surgery.”
Just two weeks after surgery, Erin is doing regular physical therapy and has a full range of motion in her knee. With so many past knee procedures and other medical conditions, she still uses a walker but only after therapy as a precaution. She is very pleased with the results so far. “My pain is so much less than before the surgery and is getting better every day,” says Erin, who is looking forward to getting back to life. In her future, travel including hiking and hopefully zip lining. Her father has also promised her new golf clubs and a few lessons to go along with them.
Nanticoke is the first and only hospital on the Delmarva Peninsula to offer this new technology. Several surgeons including Dr. David Eakin and Dr. William Doran are certified to perform knee replacement using the Mako Robotic Arm-Assisted technology. For more information, visit www.nanticoke.org/Mako.