Preparing for Knee Replacement Surgery: Karen's Story.

This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Karen. Karen had a total knee replacement (RKTR) mid-October. When we chatted with Karen, she had just passed the 6 month mark of her recovery. We wanted to find out what it’s like to be half a year out from surgery, what Karen attributes her success to, and why she’s such a fan of PreHab.

Spoiler alert: Karen’s a big advocate for PreHab! She’s even reached out to her care team to encourage them to start offering it more widely.

The “Who, What, When & Where”

Upon speaking to Karen, it became clear that she is someone that crosses all of her t’s and dots her i’s. Perhaps this has something to do with her 34-year career in logistics management that relied on strong decision-making and organizational skills. Paired with Karen’s draw to world travel and adventure, and being an avid reader and lifelong learner, it’s no surprise that Karen’s joint replacement journey unfolded with expert precision.

Karen invested time in determining where she wanted her replacement done, who she wanted it done by, and how she could best prepare for surgery day. It may seem like Karen bit the bullet and got her replacement done as soon as she knew she needed it, but this wasn’t the case. Instead, Karen spent years putting off the procedure which was likely required in the first place due to her Ankylosing Spondylitis (a type of arthritis that affects the spine and joints). She explains, “I kept putting it off. I knew in my head that my right knee was not going to get any better. I had obviously made the rounds of doctors because of my arthritis [Ankylosing Spondylitis]. I knew from x-rays and MRIs that my right knee was bad.”

Despite knowing that her knee wasn’t going to get better, it was a conversation with her brother that put things into perspective. Karen shares, “It was really my brother (and myself as well) that determined my quality of life was really going downhill. I just realized that I was saying ‘no’ to a lot of invitations—avoiding social things and avoiding activities that I knew physically I couldn’t participate in.” With the added clarity from a loved one, Karen determined that her knee pain was preventing her from living the full life she wanted.

In late 2015, Karen devoted herself to online knee replacement research to begin solving the “who, what, when and where” of her joint replacement riddle. By the time 2016 rolled around, Karen knew that this was the year she’d have her replacement. With an upcoming retirement, Karen had her “when” roughly decided.

The next step would be determining “the where”. After a lot of research, Karen settled on the Orthopedic Institute at UCSF.

Karen explains how she determined her hospital of choice: “I liked the idea of arthritis doctors and othopedists working together since I had this underlying Ankylosing Spondylitis. With this, I knew I wanted UCSF, which is ranked number 7 in orthopedic surgery and has an arthritis and joint replacement clinic.”

Now that she had the “where” Karen was left to determine “the who”. With a recommendation from a colleague, she met with Dr. Erik Hansen at USCF. Karen went into her consultation knowing exactly what she was looking for. She describes her decision-making process, “One criteria was how many surgeries did the surgeon do a year….Another one of the things was infection rate. I did a lot of research, read-up on him, and read his research papers.” Hearing that the surgeon had a high caseload, actively researched infection rates, and was confident that he could help her, Karen went ahead and booked then and there.

Sign-up for PeerWell PreHab today and see if you qualify for our mobile app for surgery prep and recovery!

Preparing for Surgery: The PreHab Discovery

With more than 5 months of lead time until her scheduled surgery, Karen carried on with regular health care appointments and you know...her research! During her physical therapy appointments recommended by her rheumatologist (not surgeon), she was introduced to the idea of “PreHab”. A little online research later and Karen discovered PeerWell. In addition to doing in-class physical therapy, Karen completed 2.5 months of PeerWell’s mobile PreHab program before her surgery.

Karen explains, “Without a doubt, I absolutely attribute my success to prehab. It strengthened my legs and it strengthened my quads (which support my knee). I had much better balance and muscle tone going into surgery in addition to paying attention to my nutrition.”

Karen describes herself as “A 100% firm believer in PreHab”. She continues by saying, “I’m surprised that it’s not offered more. I think the surgeons and their team—once a patient signs up for surgery—need to get patients on the PreHab path.”

Karen followed PeerWell’s plan every day for 10 weeks before her surgery. Using the knee replacement exercises, nutrition tips and mindfulness, she was able to get herself mentally and physically ready for surgery. Attending her joint replacement class two weeks before surgery, she describes thinking, “Man, this [PeerWell] is so good—PreHab is so important. They really need to get exercises and what have you into the hands of people so that they can do something prior to surgery.”

Luckily for Karen, her proactiveness and dedicated online research presented her with the opportunity to get better prepared before surgery. With this, it’s about time we find out how Karen’s surgery went...

Spoiler alert #2: Thing are going fantastically!

Everybody, Recovery Time!

“The surgery went well. I was sent home the next day,” revealed Karen. She followed up by saying, “The first two weeks were the hardest.” With that, Karen shared a important tip about looking at recovery. Rather than look at each day, she suggested joint recipients measure their progress on a weekly scale.

“If I looked at my progress daily, I would sometimes get down or feel frustrated. Weekly, I saw much more progress. Some days I would say, ‘Oh my gosh, I am no better than I was yesterday’. Then I said, ‘Wait a minute, look at how I’m doing this week compared to one week ago. Each week I got better and the pain was less,” Karen shared.

Karen said that she turned the corner with pain around the 12 week mark: “This is where I felt more normal, but it wasn’t perfect.” Throughout her recovery Karen has made sure to stay active and to work on her weak points—even if it’s uncomfortable. She describes having “fabulous flexion from the get-go” and “very good results as far as extending” but has had ongoing trouble with steep stairs. “Even today I cannot walk down stairs one foot over the other—I have to hold on to the handrail.”

Since having her replacement, Karen has steadily gone to physical therapy to push her recovery as close to the 100% mark as she can. Her diligence, dedication, and fierce desire to live her life to its fullest has made her an inspirational knee arthroplasty candidate. We can’t wait to hear how well she’s doing at the 1 year mark, 5 year point, and beyond!

Rapid Fire Questions

In this section, we ask our interviewees to answer with the first thought that comes to mind. Their questions are transcribed exactly. Here’s what Karen had to say about her knee replacement (totally off the cuff):

1. What advice do you give people preparing for a replacement?

K: Exercise and strengthen.

2. What is something that caught you off-guard about knee replacement surgery?

K: It’s a longer ReHab process than I thought.

3. Describe your replacement in one word.

K: Life-changing.

4. 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).

K: It’s a very positive thing. I would say it’s a 10 although I am still not 100% - but I'm working on getting there! It’s been life-changing...I am so much better.

5. If you could tell yourself something at the beginning of your journey, what would it be?

K: Don’t wait so long! Get it done! You can enjoy life that much sooner. Get it done and get it over with. Get on with enjoying life.

6. Anything else you’d like to add?

K: I am just so pleased with your product and am gratetful that it’s out there. It was virtually spot on to what UCSF asked me to do in terms of exercises and nutrition tips. You guys obviously did a lot of research in talking with physicians because it was just amazing how you covered all the bases. It really matched well with what I got from my surgeon and their process. Also, the mindfulness was new to me. I have never really done that type of thing before and I thought, “well, let’s give it a whirl”. All the topics they talked about I was feeling.


Sign-up for PeerWell PreHab today and see if you qualify for our mobile app for surgery prep and recovery!

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Hi, I'm Grace. I write all things surgery for the PeerWell blog. You may remember me from such titles as: "Diabetes & Joint Replacement 101" & "Sex After a Joint Replacement".

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