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Walking with Freedom

Category: Patient Stories
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In May of 2019, Denise and her husband Bill traveled to Italy to enjoy some beautiful views. With her new knee, they’re looking forward to more adventures soon.

How St. Luke’s helped one woman through a total knee replacement

A few years ago, Denise Wise was shoveling snow at her Duluth home. She sunk her right leg into a snowbank and when she tried to step out, it caught, twisting her knee. That was the moment her severe joint pain began.

As a retired physical therapist, and former chair of the physical therapy department at The College of St. Scholastica, she had heard many clients talk of serious joint pain. Now she was experiencing it firsthand. After talking with her doctor, she knew eventually she would need a total knee replacement.

“I’m only 60. I want to be active.”

However, there were a few treatments that would buy her some time. She had a hydrocortisone injection and arthroscopy, commonly called a scope. This helped relieve some of her discomfort.

But during the summer of 2022, her pain reached a critical point.

Making the decision
“I would do a cortisone injection and get two hours of relief and then the pain was back,” she said. “It started to interfere with my ability to do things around the house. I couldn’t garden or mow the lawn. Climbing stairs became increasingly difficult. I was cancelling trips because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk.”

While she knew her next step was a total knee replacement, a few things caused her to hesitate.

Denise knew a total knee replacement is major surgery, and that the initial recovery can be painful. The life span of the components was also something she considered. More than 90% of total knee replacements are still functioning well 15 years after the surgery, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. After that, the joint may need to be replaced.

However, the ever-present pain and decreased daily function finally pushed the envelope. “I’m only 60. I want to be active,” said Denise. “So, I didn’t put it off for too long.”

When she told her primary care physician she wanted to move forward, he referred her to Dr. David Fogarty, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke’s Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Denise met with him, and her surgery was scheduled for November 2022.

Award-winning knee replacement
As she moved through the process of preparation and surgery, she was amazed at how much it has evolved. When she began as a physical therapist 30 years ago, patients having a total knee replacement would stay in the hospital 8 to 10 days post-surgery. “Now, it’s often just a day surgery,” she said.

St. Luke’s is ranked as a high-performing hospital for hip fracture and knee replacement by U.S. News & World Report for 2022-2023. This is due to the total package of pre-surgical preparation and education, surgical care and post-rehabilitation.

St. Luke’s was ranked as a high-performing hospital for hip fracture, knee replacement and stroke care by U.S. News & World Report for 2022-2023.

“The award is a wonderful reflection of the success we’ve had focusing on the patient experience for joint replacements,” said Dr. Fogarty.

In January 2023, St. Luke’s also became the first hospital in Minnesota to be designated an Advanced Orthopedic Center of Excellence by DNV, a global independent certification, assurance and risk management provider.

The honor recognizes St. Luke’s excellence in providing diagnostic services, surgical services and therapies related to orthopedic care.

Ready for normal
After her surgery, Denise elected to stay in the hospital for one night to make sure her pain was managed and that she felt confident with the walker. She soon began working with St. Luke’s Physical Therapist Katie Kask, DPT, OCS.

Three weeks after her surgery, she began to experience pain-free moments for the first time in years. “I would think, wow! This is what normal is?” she said.

Now that her right knee is healing well, she plans to have her left knee replaced sooner than later. She won’t hesitate to choose St. Luke’s again for the procedure.

“I want to be unfettered,” she said. “I look forward to doing yoga again, riding a bike, walking for exercise, and just doing daily things around the house. And travel – Europe is famous for its cobblestone streets. I want the confidence to walk on uneven surfaces again.”

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This article was originally featured on pages 38 & 39 in the March 2023 issue of The Woman Today magazine.