This article appeared in our fall 2014 issue of My Boone Health magazine. The next issue will be out very soon — subscribe to have it sent to your home.
By Jacob Luecke
From her home in Tebbetts, Mo., Belinda Heimericks can look down upon the Missouri River bottoms and the Katy Trail.
For years, she loved spending hours biking and walking along the trail, enjoying the views of farmland and majestic bluffs. But in recent years, those trips became fewer and fewer.
For the past decade, Belinda, 63, has suffered from arthritis in both of her knees. About three years ago, the pain became severe, requiring her to take pain medication just to make it through each day.
In addition to limiting her time on the Katy Trail, Belinda’s increasing pain was starting to take the fun out of life—making it difficult to enjoy a 2013 trip to the St. Louis Zoo with six of her eight grandkids.
“Anytime I had an outing, I would have to plan out how long I was going to be walking and make sure that I could take my pain medication throughout the day,” she says. “If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be able to make it through the day.”
Looking for help, Belinda turned to Columbia Orthopaedic Group, the physician practice affiliated with Boone Hospital Center’s orthopedic program.
At first, Belinda and her doctor tried using injections to stop the pain, but those did not provide lasting relief. Then, orthopedic surgery specialist Ben Holt, MD, decided that performing replacement surgery was the best path forward. He recommended doing both knees at once.
“What I ask people is, ‘Which knee bothers you more?’ And if they can’t tell me which knee bothers them more, then generally those patients do better having both knees done at the same time,” Dr. Holt says. “Doing them both at once means they avoid having to face the risks of surgery twice and having to do rehab twice. This way, they can get it all over with at the same time.”
While replacement surgery was a big step, Belinda says she trusted Dr. Holt and the Columbia Orthopaedic Group, noting that the practice had helped her family members in the past.
“I had heard excellent things about them and my experience with Columbia Orthopaedics has always been very positive,” she says. “Our family has always had excellent outcomes.”
As a nurse who works in a management role with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Belinda says she was also aware of Boone Hospital’s reputation for outstanding nursing care. The hospital’s Magnet designation made her feel comfortable she would be in good hands as she recovered from surgery.
“With my nursing background, I pay attention to the reputation of the nursing care provided at the different hospitals,” she says. “I knew that Boone Hospital Center was a Magnet hospital, which for me is very important because I know that signals that the nursing care is going to be excellent.”
Belinda’s surgery took place on Dec. 6, 2013. While the procedure is called “replacement” surgery, Dr. Holt says that term often leads to confusion. Rather than removing and replacing a patient’s knees, the surgery actually involves resurfacing the knees.
Belinda’s surgery took just over two hours. During that time, Dr. Holt cut away a small amount of bone on both of her knees, enabling him to install a new metal surface. He then placed a plastic insert to pad where the two metal surfaces would come together in the knee.
“A lot of times people have a real misconception about what we do,” Dr. Holt says. “Really I think the better term would be total knee resurfacing, because that’s really what we are doing.”
The surgery went smoothly.
After the procedure, as Belinda recovered at Boone Hospital, she says her nurses lived up to their strong reputation.
“They were just outstanding,” she says. “I think what struck me about it was how they anticipated my needs. I didn’t have to tell them I was experiencing pain, they were there and saying, ‘It’s time. We think you need more pain medication so that we can stay ahead of the pain.’ They were anticipating what my needs were and that made it much more tolerable.”
On the fourth day after the surgery, she was able to return home, where she underwent a month of in-home therapy before doing one additional month of outpatient therapy.
As she recovered, her world began to open up again.
Just four months after the surgery, she attended a soccer class with her four-year-old grandson. She was far from a bystander.
“I was out in that class with him and I was able to kick the soccer ball and dribble it down the field,” Belinda says. “Before the surgery, I would have been sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else. That’s how quickly it all came back”
This summer, Belinda went on an out-of-state work trip where her hotel was five blocks from her meetings. Yet each day, she skipped the shuttle and walked instead—enjoying the opportunity to sightsee.
“I had no knee pain and I didn’t have to take any medications,” she says. “I was able to walk as far as I wanted.”
This contrasted greatly with a similar trip in 2013, when Belinda needed assistance just to get around the airport.
Dr. Holt says such strong results are common with knee replacement patients.
“It’s usually a dramatic improvement,” Dr. Holt says. “Not every knee replacement patient is totally pain free all the time. But usually in comparison it’s a dramatic improvement from what they had before.”
With Belinda’s great outcome—she says she feels no pain except for some occasional, normal stiffness—Belinda is not shy about endorsing the service she received at Boone Hospital.
“I just can’t speak highly enough about the nursing care, the care provided by the physical therapists and the medical staff at Boone Hospital Center,” she says. “My husband and I have decided if we need to be hospitalized anywhere in central Missouri, it needs to be at Boone Hospital.”
Belinda also had high praise for Dr. Holt, whom she says has a wonderful bedside manner and a great sense of humor.
“He is an excellent practitioner, he’s very personable,” she says. “I highly recommend him. The first thing I say to anyone is if they have any kind of knee or hip problems, I say you need to schedule an appointment with Dr. Holt. He is fantastic.”
When should you see an orthopedic specialist for knee pain?
As people get older, it’s common to feel aches and pains every now and then. But if the pain is persistent, Dr. Holt says there is a wide variety of techniques that a specialist can use to help relieve the pain—with replacement surgery being one of the later options.
“The normal knee really shouldn’t hurt,” Dr. Holt says. “It’s one thing to have an ache or pain here and there, but if you are having discomfort several days of the week—week after week—there is something going on that probably needs to be addressed. If it’s ignored, it may just continue to get worse.”