Sandra Tucker, MSKI partial knee replacement patient

News, Your Health | one month ago

Albemarle Resident Ready to Relish Summer with Grandkids Thanks to Expert Orthopedic Care Close to Home

As a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in a busy osteopathic practice and a married grandmother of three active young athletes, Sandra Tucker’s daily routine is filled with non-stop motion and she likes it that way. So, when over-the-counter medications and other non-surgical treatments failed to ease the worsening arthritis pain in her knees, she opted to undergo surgery for the first time in her life for not one, but two partial knee replacements. Now, she’s happily back to taking care of patients and her family.

Two years ago, at age 50, Sandra Tucker began experiencing frequent pain in her knees. X-rays revealed arthritis, which is a degenerative condition that inflames the joints and their connective tissue. Within a year, the pain was so agonizing she could barely walk, so she visited Timothy Gajewski, MD, a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute (MSKI) Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Albemarle.

As an LPN working and living in Albemarle, N.C., Sandra was familiar with this local Atrium Health MSKI facility because some of her patients and family members had sought treatment there. Dr. Gajewski first exhausted all of the non-surgical treatment options, including steroids and gel injections. When those brought no relief, he recommended a partial knee replacement on each leg. Knowing how many successful joint replacements he had performed, Sandra agreed to undergo her first ever surgeries, scheduled just five weeks apart.

Osteoarthritis Takes a Toll on Joints

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 58.5 million U.S. adults suffer from arthritis, which takes many forms. Sandra was dealing with one of the most common types, osteoarthritis.

“With osteoarthritis, you experience swelling, pain, stiffness, loss of motion and deformity in your joints,” explains Dr. Gajewski. “The disease progressively degenerates your cartilage, so it gets worse over time.” In some cases, osteoarthritis results from trauma to the knee, but more often, it stems from genetics, he says.

Regardless of the cause, osteoarthritis made Sandra’s life miserable. “I was in anguish. Every time my feet hit the floor, it felt like knives ripping into my knees.” As a result, she put everything on hold, including trips with her husband and attendance at her grandkids’ gymnastics meets and soccer and baseball games. “Those are things you don’t want to miss, but if you’re hurting all the time, you just can’t do them.”

Partial Knee Replacement Is the Answer

When all three compartments of the knee are diseased, a total knee replacement is the go-to procedure. But Sandra’s arthritis had only damaged the cartilage on her medial compartment (inner side of the knee) and her patellofemoral compartment (front of the knee). According to Dr. Gajewski, this pattern doesn’t typically progress to the outer side of the knee, called the lateral compartment. Therefore, she was a prime candidate for a partial knee replacement that focuses only on the diseased compartments.

This procedure is more minimally invasive than a total knee replacement because muscle doesn’t have to be cut, less bone is removed and the native ligaments remain intact. Patients experience less post-op pain and enjoy easier recoveries. Even so, Dr. Gajewski recommended performing Sandra’s partial knee replacements separately to let her focus on rehabilitating one knee at a time.

Both surgeries were performed at Atrium Health Stanly. Since these were Sandra’s first surgeries, she was nervous. Thankfully, she says, Dr. Gajewski explained exactly what he was going to do and what she could expect, and everything went according to plan. When she woke up in recovery, her arthritis pain was gone and she was walking that same day, each time with the help of the hospital’s physical and occupational therapy staff.

Finally, a Summer without Pain

After her 24-hour hospital stay and discharge, Sandra went to physical therapy twice a week for eight weeks at Atrium Health Stanley. Today, she continues to exercise her knees at home, which is just eight miles from Dr. Gajewski’s office and the hospital. “I wanted to be treated locally,” she says, noting how convenient it was to access complete care right in her home town of Albemarle.

Two months post-op, Sandra has comfortably returned to work full-time. And with summer approaching, she’s looking forward to enjoying her family’s annual vacation where she can play with her grandchildren without pain for the first time in years. “It’s made a tremendous difference. Just being able to go places and do things and not have to worry about hurting all the time.”