Relieving seniors' fear of joint replacement
By Karen Caffarini For Sun-Times Media
On the mend: Physical therapist Stacy Gaza assists Joint Academy patient Fred Lams, of Hobart, after hip replacement surgery at St. Mary Medical Center. | Supplied photo
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Some patients first arrive at The Joint Academy at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, Ind., using a cane. Others limp in.
All are seeking relief from a constant and sometimes excruciating pain in their hips or knees, which for many will mean joint replacement surgery.
“In general, the right time to have a joint replacement is when the pain affects your quality of life, your ability to get around,” Dr. Scott Andrews, orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the Joint Academy, said.
He said doctors at the academy will try to treat the pain with medications and injections first. If neither is successful, they’ll recommend hip or knee replacement surgery. He said the academy, which opened about four years ago, performs between 35 and 60 joint replacement surgeries per month, with knee replacement by far outnumbering hip surgery.
Andrews said patients will be educated on what to expect during and after the surgery to allay their fears and anxieties.
“For some people, this is their first surgery. They have a lot of fears. Many are surprised to hear they will be able to walk a few hours after surgery,” Andrews said.
Andrews said most people will have only one joint replaced at a time, but Donna Wieczorek, joint care coordinator and quality care navigator for orthopedics at St. Mary Medical Center, said a lot of their patients return later to have the second joint replaced.
Andrews said arthritis is the No. 1 cause of joint pain, and the reason 95 to 98 percent of patients get joint replacement surgery. He said obesity puts more stress on joints and could have some effect, but genetics play a much larger part of the equation.
The pain most commonly starts when a person is in their 50s or 60s, although it can start as early as their 20s and 30s if the person has had a significant injury, Andrews said.
He said there is no age limit for when the procedure can be done. “We’ve done it on patients in their 90s and they’ve done well.”
Good news for those needing the surgery: Like other procedures, joint replacement has come a long way thanks to technological advances.
“It was a big surgery before and doctors felt people had to stay in the hospital a long time. It used to be seven to 10 days. Now people are going home the day after surgery,” Andrews said.
The surgery itself takes about an hour to an hour and a half. Patients are urged to move around soon after.
“Before they leave the hospital we make sure they can ambulate comfortably. They usually use a walker or cane,” Andrews said.
Those who primarily sit down during work can return in about three weeks, while those who move around more or lift heavy items would need to wait six to eight weeks before going back to their job, Andrews said. Patients can drive a car about two weeks after surgery.
Following their release from the hospital, patients will undergo about six weeks of physical therapy.
Among the added benefits of getting surgery through the Joint Academy, Andrews said, are the patient reunions it holds every couple of months on the hospital’s first floor for those patients who underwent the surgery in the previous two to three months.
“We invite the patients and the person who helps them — it could be their friend, family member or anyone who helps them once they get home after surgery,” Wieczorek said.
She said the reunions include lunch, a blessing and a time to meet with and talk to fellow joint surgery patients.
“The first thing the patients do is look around to see if anyone is there that they had surgery with. They spend a lot of time together in therapy,” Wieczorek said. “They chat and have a good time.”
She said the reunions are usually well attended, with one reunion drawing 78 people.
Those attending the reunion can also get some of their post-operation questions answered. Wieczorek said, for instance, some people tell them they still have a little numbness around the incision.
“We tell them that’s part of the healing process,” she said.
The reunions also allow patients to provide feedback to the academy.
“The program is good and well-attended, but we’re always looking for ways to improve,” Andrews said.
More information about the Joint Academy of St. Mary Medical Center, call (219) 945-4365.