Lou Ann Weber, 64, felt the snap more than heard it. She felt it in her left knee.
That was about six years ago, the Dorr, Michigan, resident said, and it was about a year later that she felt her right knee snap, too.
“I have a desk job at a bank, but I’m on my feet most of the day,” Weber said. “My knees hurt enough that I went to see a doctor about it.”
Joel Wolfe, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Shoreline Orthopedics in Zeeland, often performs joint replacement surgery at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital for his patients. But he turned Weber away when the conversation turned to knee replacement surgery.
“Not yet, he told me,” Weber said. “Dr. Wolfe said I had to lose weight first. I had to get my BMI (down), and that meant I had to lose 60 to 70 pounds before I could have knee replacement surgery.”
The extra weight puts extra strain on knees, causing pain, and it also raises the odds of complications during surgery, Dr. Wolfe said.
Weber acknowledged: the pain in her knees was strong motivation to lose the weight.
“I got into the right mind set,” she said. “Dr. Wolfe advised me that about 80% of losing weight was diet and about 20% was exercise, so I started by eating out less. I had to watch my sweet tooth, and I cut back on portions.”
Weber bought a recumbent bike to ride indoors, allowing her to sit back so her back took more of the stress rather than her knees.
“And I weighed myself every day,” she said. “It took about a year to lose the weight, but it really made a difference in how my knees felt. In fact, I wondered if I really needed the surgery anymore, but they did both slide out of place now and then, so I went to see Dr. Wolfe and I told him I was ready.”
Weber had never undergone surgery before. She confessed to having a bit of nerves about it but attended a class before the surgery to learn more about preparation and after-care.
“I learned about exercises I could do prior to surgery to strengthen my muscles,” she said.
With the class completed in May 2019, Weber went into surgery in June for her right knee.
“Easy-breezy,” Weber laughed. “On a pain scale, I would say it was a two out of 10. I had the surgery at 3 p.m. on a Monday, and I was walking that evening in the hospital.”
Weber had her second surgery, replacing her left knee, in September.
“After the surgery, your knees feel like they weigh a 1,000 pounds, but every day is a little easier,” Weber said. “The first two weeks I spent doing exercises, icing my knees and napping. I took six weeks off work for my first knee, eight for the second.”
Rachel Hughes, a physical therapist at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital’s rehabilitative services, worked with Weber to help her ease into using her new knees.
“We worked with Lou Ann to make it fun rather than a task,” Hughes said. “Our approach is to encourage our patients and be open with what they are facing.”
Back into the swing of things
Adding pleasant scenery to her exercises made recovery easier, Weber said, as she and her husband headed north to a family cabin. With its circle driveway, it was the perfect place to walk in circles with her walker, later graduating to a cane.
“I’m happy I don’t have a third knee,” Weber laughs. “But I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It’s changed my life. By now, I’ve lost 67 pounds, although I’d like to lose 50 more. I ride my bike every day. Exercise has become a part of my lifestyle.
“Most important is that you have to trust your surgeon, and I’d highly recommend Dr. Wolfe. He tells it like it is, and he commended me for doing the work, before and after surgery.”
Dr. Wolfe acknowledged the vote of confidence and echoed the thought of knee replacement surgery being a life-changing experience.
“These surgeries are quite magical,” he said. “I’ve been a surgeon for 28 years, and I have seen how they can change the lives of my patients, taking people from a sedentary life to an active one. Many knee problems begin with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. When that gets to the point of causing so much pain that it affects your level of activity, it’s time to consult a surgeon.”
“I’m going to take good care of these knees,” Weber added. “I want to dance at my grandson’s wedding in May 2021. These knees will get me on the dance floor again.”