A Knee Replacement Story: Ain't No Mountain High Enough
This week on the blog, we’re sharing Peg’s joint replacement journey. We’ll start by saying that above anyone we’ve spoken to, Peg’s knee replacement story really has been a journey--she’s been through it all. Whether or not you’re facing a joint replacement, her story is an inspiration to all and a reminder to “hang in there”.
Peg, who’s in her mid-50’s has been put through the ringer when it comes to her total knee replacement. You know when something unfavorable happens and in an effort to brush it off you think, “well, it could have been worse”? Unfortunately for Peg, short of an amputation, she’s experienced most people’s worst-case scenario when it comes to her replacement. Despite all of this, Peg is both upbeat and contagiously positive.
Read on as we share Peg’s story, why she’s such a rockstar, and hear what she did to keep trekkin’ through the ups and downs.
The Backstory: Years of Knee-ding Joint Relief
Although Peg’s breaking point (quite literally) happened at a few points throughout her tumultuous journey towards a new, artificial knee, her joint problems began in the late 1970’s. Peg explains, “In 1978 I dislocated my knee while playing soccer in high school. I had a tendon surgery to keep the kneecap in place but it was never quite right after that.” After high school, Peg served in the Navy. Although never the same, her knee “worked pretty well” and got her through her years of service and beyond.
Living an active life of soccer, softball and hiking, alongside a full social life of RV trips, camping and concerts, Peg began to taper down on her physical activities about 15 years ago. Peg elaborates, “I played sports up until 10 or 15 years ago. I always liked to keep active but it started hurting too much the day after.” With knee pain beginning to interfere, in 2006 Peg started receiving injections in her joint to combat pain and stiffness. From this point forward, Peg shares, “I never stopped getting treated for knee problems.”
In the years that followed, Peg went through 3 bouts of physical therapy to build up her muscle strength and better support her knee. She shares, “I did the exercises for years but it got to the point where nothing was happening.”
The Breaking Point(s): Surgeries, Complications & Trauma.
“It got really bad about three years ago. I was in a restaurant and when I stood up, my knee ‘popped’. Excruciating pain just ran through it,” explained Peg. From this moment on, she was on anti-inflammatories. After her knee popped, she was on the fast-track to a knee replacement. This was the first time that a knee replacement was suggested as the next, necessary move to fix her years of knee problems.
In June 2015, Peg had a total knee replacement. Peg describes her replacement: “Everything was going great. I had great bend and everyone was really happy with it.” However, one wrong move was about to set into motion a long-chain of complications. Peg continues, “It was Labour Day weekend at the boat and I stepped wrong and twisted my leg. I fractured my kneecap, ruptured the tendon and just broke my knee.”
After the accident, Peg’s care team tried to repair her knee with a surgery in early September 2015. The surgery was to repair the patellar fracture and tendon. However, the tendon wasn’t attaching right, and was actually separating. A second follow-up revision surgery would need to take place that December. During this surgery, her surgical team attempted to once again repair the patellar tendon. However, failure was imminent. Peg’s knee was infected and needed to be cleaned out with antibiotic beads, a PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) line to administer a steady flow of medication, and 6 weeks of oral antibiotics.
From here, Peg was recommended to a specialist at the Mayo Clinic. Just 10 days after her 6 week bout of antibiotics, her infection came back. She would need to do a second round of PICC lines and antibiotics. Finally, in March 2016, 7 months after her fall, Peg was infection-free. However, her surgeon at the Mayo Clinic would need to remove her knee replacement prosthesis and the antibiotic spacer that had been implanted.
For the rest of 2016, Peg would be in and out of hospital, enduring a handful more procedures. She would even have to go through an Anterolateral thigh fasciocutaneous flap, also known as a skin graft. This skin graft, taken from her upper thigh would be used to cover her surgical knee. Her knee had endured so much surgical trauma that without a graft, she didn’t have enough skin to cover the area.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
To illustrate the kind of person Peg is, despite all of her challenges, she kept repeating on our call how “amazing modern medicine” is. Throughout her laundry list of complications, setbacks, and close-calls in the 1.5 years that followed her initial replacement, Peg was told that if medicine hadn’t been so advanced during this whole debacle, her leg surely would have been amputated. For keeping her knee, even though complicated, Peg reiterated how grateful she was to modern medicine and her care team.
Knowing that a replacement-replacement was on the horizon, Peg didn’t want to run any risks and sought out the best way that she could stay healthy, improve her odds at a great outcome, and do all she could to prepare herself. This is where PeerWell PreHab came into the picture. Peg was on PeerWell’s PreHab program longer than any other app user to date. Not knowing exactly when her surgery date would be scheduled, Peg completed the entire PreHab program and started over again.
Peg was cleared for surgery at the beginning of this year and was booked for her grand finale knee replacement surgery in February 2017. The surgery would be much more complex than normal, involving skin grafts and even an allograft bone from a cadaver. Despite having more than normal to worry about, Peg described feeling more prepared and in a better headspace than her previous surgeries.
Peg explains her experience with PeerWell’s PreHab app, “I practiced everything that was on PeerWell and even started repeating it because I was on the program so long [laughs]. I did it everyday. I think it really does prep you for surgery and it becomes second nature to do it.”
After surgery, Peg continued to use what she learned in PreHab. She explains, “I woke up in recovery, not feeling very good. To calm myself down I got the mindfulness and positive thoughts going. It worked. It was a whole lot better than the original surgeries. Everything went a whole lot better.”
As of this writing, Peg is two months into her recovery. Everything is going well despite her recovery process being more challenging than most. She explains, “I’m feeling good but haven’t been able to bend the knee. The doctor has me in a straight leg thing until the bone graft heals. It’s holding the patella in place. It has to heal up before I can try and bend the knee. I also have 79 staples in my leg because the cut went further--from mid-thigh to mid-shin.” Peg immediately follows this up by saying, “But everything is going great. I can’t wait until I can start bending and working it.”
Peg’s goal is to dance at her son’s wedding in December. We have no question that she’ll do it.
Rapid Fire Questions
In this section, we ask our interviewees to answer with the first word or sentence that comes to mind. Their questions are transcribed exactly. Here’s what Peg had to say about her knee replacement:
What advice do you give people preparing for a replacement?
P: Just to prepare and get the whole story. A lot of people don’t know how long the recovery is. Get all of the facts. It’s not just a 6 week process.
What is something that caught you off-guard about knee replacement surgery?
P: Just when everything went bad. It had nothing to do with the replacement. It was a separate thing and procedure. Just get prepared for the possibility of complications. Also, having to depend on other people. You’re so independent and suddenly you're not...a little but of depression hits.
Describe your replacement in one word.
P: A gift.
Rate your entire joint replacement experience on a scale from 1-10 (1 being the worst thing ever and 10 being the best thing ever).
P:Even with all the complications I’d go with an 8. I would do it all again. I may have to do it again! The services I’ve had have been great.
If you could tell yourself something at the beginning of your journey, what would it be?
P: Just that it’s needed and prepare for it.