Getting Back on my Feet FAST

My name is Linda Bilardello and #thisismyknee

As a physical therapist working and living outside Columbus, Ohio, my job is to help clients achieve the best physical mobility that they can. Many of them are living with congenital disorders or were born with cerebral palsy, so it is especially important that I challenge each one to do more than they originally thought they could. These clients depend on me and there is no substitute therapist that can take my place when I am not able to work. But recently, I experienced firsthand what it is like to struggle with mobility. I lived with serious and debilitating pain in my left knee on and off for years. I used to receive cortisone shots that would provide me with relief for weeks on end, but when they stopped working my doctor confirmed it was time for a total knee replacement.

I’ve watched many friends and even assisted family members who had undergone total knee replacement surgery. I know firsthand that the road to recovery can be lengthy and painful. I immediately considered what my own recovery would be like. How long would I have to be away from the clients that depended on me? Could I resume my active lifestyle without the fear of my knee giving out? I reached out to colleagues and friends to learn about their experiences with different knee replacement models and conducted some additional research online. Before long, a friend and fellow physical therapist in Dayton, OH introduced me to the Conformis total knee replacement. She explained that many of her Conformis patients were experiencing faster recovery times than those who received the typical off-the-shelf replacement. The idea of getting back to my clients faster was encouraging, so I decided to meet with a Conformis surgeon to learn more.

Doctor Edward Westerheide made me feel comfortable from the start. He explained that a Conformis knee was the only truly customizable replacement on the market. Other implants generally come in a range of standard sizes, which means in some cases surgeons may have to cut away more existing bone and surrounding tissue to try to achieve a good fit. Using a different approach, Conformis uses data from a CT scan for each patient to create a 3D model of my joint. Each replacement component is then engineered to match my unique anatomy, which results in the surgeon having to remove less of my natural bone and tissue. I decided to move forward with the Conformis replacement and before I knew it, it was time for my operation.

As I prepared for surgery at the New Albany Surgical Center, I again found myself thinking about my recovery timeline. I needed to get back to work quickly, but also my husband and I were planning to leave for a vacation to Africa in only nine weeks! As I was wheeled into the operating room, I hoped I would still be able to participate in all the activities we had planned.

I was kept in the hospital for 24-hours due to sickness from the anesthesia but was up and walking within hours of my operation! After being discharged from the hospital, I began working with my own physical therapist. While I did have full extension range from day one after the operation, I continued to attend one-hour physical therapy sessions to strength the muscles. Surprisingly, I felt good enough to return to work part-time after only 16 days!

Many of my friends and colleagues were shocked by my progress. Before surgery, I was unable to stand for long periods of time, had trouble rising from a chair, and regularly opted for the elevator instead of the stairs. But those troubles disappeared a few weeks after surgery and I found myself facing another intimidating obstacle— my impending vacation to Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Cape Town South Africa.

I was determined not to be left behind on the trip. Sometimes that meant waking up early to stretch, taking Advil throughout the day, and generally being as careful as possible. But thankfully, I made it through the trip without any major issues. I walked a wet and slippery path besides Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, went on animal safaris in Botswana, and enjoyed the breathtaking views and culture in Cape Town. I also managed to climb up into a small jeep filled with other members of our tour. Ironically enough, one of the members of our tour group had also recently opted for a total knee replacement. While I was only nine weeks post-op with Conformis and feeling good, she opted for an off-the-shelf model and was struggling to keep up at seven months post-op. Though everyone’s recovery is different, I was encouraged that I was seeing such great progress in such a short time.

No surgery is easy, and this experience certainly gave me new insights into the struggles my clients face daily. I am still working to feel like my old self, but I can now tackle the stairs in my home with ease and can stand for long periods of time without pain. These are no small accomplishments for someone who has dealt with pain on and off for years! I hope that others can learn from my experience and do their own research to find out if this option might also be right for them.

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