For Kathy Steese of Sunbury, the past few summers were, in a word, miserable. Not being able to keep up with her grandchildren was heartbreaking. Having to sit on a park bench while her family enjoyed the rides at amusement parks was discouraging. And taking 20 minutes to walk from the parking lot to her job at the Susquehanna Valley Mall was frustrating. More than that, these activities were excruciatingly painful.
"I've had trouble with my knees for about eight years," Steese explained. "Arthritis in my knees had caused me to have pain with every step. I'm only 51 years old; there is still so much more I wanted to do, and the pain I was experiencing each day would have made them impossible dreams." Evangelical Community Hospital's Joint Replacement Center was the first step on the journey to fulfilling those dreams.
When she walked into the office of Thomas F. Dominick, MD, from SUN Orthopaedic Group, Inc., in tears because of the pain, Steese knew that something had to change. "I told him, 'I can't do this anymore. There has to be a better way to live.' After he took several X-rays, he told me, 'There is a better way; we're going to replace both of your knees.'" She was initially shocked at his aggressive plan of action. "Could I recover from having two knees replaced at the same time?" she wondered. "I wasn't sure. But he explained that if I only had one done, I wouldn't have a good leg to stand on while the other one heals! He said it was necessary and I got on board."
Dr. Dominick and Charles Cole, MD, orthopaedic surgeons with SUN Orthopaedic Group, Inc. and members of the Evangelical Medical Staff, perform nearly 50 hip and knee replacement surgeries monthly.
Though Steese had a positive attitude, she was not without apprehension. Nearly 20 years ago, she was the caregiver for her mother while she was recovering from knee replacement surgery. "I was there for her throughout her physical therapy, and it was very hard for her," Steese recalled. "It had been painful for her, and I was afraid to go through a similar experience." She had heard good things about Evan's Joint Replacement Center from others, but still she thought, "What if it isn't so great for me? What if I go through this and I still have pain? What if it doesn't work for me?"
The first step to quelling those fears was the education session that Evangelical provides for each of its replacement patients. Pam Harpster, Team Leader for the Joint Replacement Center, guides patients through the entire process, from surgery to discharge. "We give everyone a booklet that focuses on the joint replacement they will be receiving, whether it is hip or knee surgery," Harpster explained. "And we make sure each patient reviews those materials with one of our trained staff members. We want to address any questions or concerns they may have." A tour of the Center is also included during the education session, so there are no surprises once a patient arrives on the floor.
Along with the booklet, patients are also given a set of detailed physical strengthening exercises to perform prior to surgery. Assisting each patient with the exercises is a coach (a friend or family member), who is with the patient throughout the entire recovery process. For Steese, her coach was her husband, John. "The exercise wasn't easy," Steese said with a chuckle. "It was especially challenging because you are doing it while you still have your bum knees. But John was there to encourage me. It hurt, but it helped in the long run."
After the surgery, Steese knew that the very next day she would be expected to be up, out of bed, and walking with her new knees. She wasn't sure she could believe it. "I remember that first morning, getting out of bed. I expected it to be painful; I expected to feel like they didn't work. But I stood up, walked the short distance from my bed to the door of my room, and I stared at my husband. It was incredible! I had some soreness, but no pain! There is a difference," she said.
Steese had her surgery on a Monday in January 2006 and worked very hard through the physical rehabilitation at the Joint Replacement Center until Thursday, when she was discharged. For those three days, she walked and walked and powered through the strengthening exercises that the physical therapists on the unit guided her through with the rest of her group, all with the help of her loving coach, John. "He was a great help to me, pushing me to keep going. But a lot of my motivation came from that board," Steese said, referring to the medium-sized white board that tracks the progress of each patient on the floor in a given week. Posted in the main hallway of the Center for everyone to see, the progress board takes advantage of the group atmosphere that is fostered at the Center. Each patient and his or her coach push themselves. In addition, the natural competitive spirit in each person comes out when they see that others are walking just a little bit farther than they are, making a little bit more progress than they have today.
"It's neat to see how competitive our patients can be," Harpster said. "Each of them wants to feel better, but they also want to be number one on that board! Of course, we don't let them push harder or faster than they should. But it seems to be a natural motivator, seeing the progress that others are making."
It also helped Steese to know that the Joint Replacement Center was a "well" environment, rather than a "sick" environment. "The people at the Center aren't sick; they are well patients who have just had surgery. So we don't allow our patients to lie around in hospital gowns each day," explained Linda Carl, RN, Director of the Joint Replacement Center. "They wear their own clothes and shoes and participate actively with the other patients. It really does make a difference in how they view their time spent here, and how well they feel each day."
Having a coach they know and trust also helps patients progress more quickly and comfortably. For Steese, her husband, John, knew just what to do. "He was there with me every step of the way. He learned as much as I did, in terms of what I could do, what I should wait to do, what I could attempt on my own, and what he should help me with," she said. "Having him go through the experience with me proved to be invaluable once I got home. There was no learning curve; John was able to just jump right in there and help care for me the way the nurses and therapists did at the Center."
The camaraderie that grows among the patients on the floor is another positive motivator for Joint Center participants. Most people have their surgeries on Monday or Tuesday and spend the rest of the week in the intense physical therapy of the Center. They eat their meals together; they do their group exercises together. And though they are only at the Joint Center for a short time, lasting friendships have resulted from the challenging process the patients go through while rehabilitating. "You are experiencing some of the most physically, and sometimes emotionally, demanding moments of your life, trying to learn to move all over again," Steese said. "I can't tell you what a comfort it was to have other people around me who knew exactly what I was going through, because they were going through it themselves. It was wonderful to have that built-in support system with people whom you could so closely relate to."
When asked what her biggest challenge was, the energetic Steese replied, "Wanting to do everything all at once! I felt so good that I just wanted to jump in there and do all the things I had been missing. I kept having to remind myself, 'Kathy, pace yourself!' I guess I was too eager to get moving!"
Once she got home, she continued her physical therapy and was back to work within weeks. More importantly, she was back to her children and grandchildren-back to her life again. "My husband and I were always very active. We like to dance and jitterbug," she said. "We play with our grandsons and go bowling. Before my surgery, I couldn't do any of that, and it broke my heart." She now takes great pleasure in the little things that many people take for granted, like shopping at the supermarket or walking the dog.
Having enjoyed two summers since she had her knees replaced, Steese is back to riding the roller coasters and kicking the soccer ball with her grandsons. And her thirst for life is unmistakable. "Being able to keep up with my family, having a grandson on each knee and one in each arm, is the true joy of my life. My knee replacement surgery has given me my life back, and I couldn't be happier," she said with glee in her voice. "I love my kids, my grandkids, my husband, and my knees!"