Published on July 26, 2022
Read Time: Four Minutes
Raised as a farm girl and always involved in athletics, 70-year-old Rolla, Missouri, resident Sandra Exon has always led an active life. In fact, she was recently playing beach volleyball when she hyperextended her right knee, causing it to tear.
This unexpected injury led Sandra to seek treatment from Alan Heincker, DO, an orthopedic surgeon with Phelps Health. Sandra was already an established patient of Dr. Heincker, as he had been administering cortisone injections on this same knee since the fall of 2020.
“I was experiencing discomfort and pain when walking on any sort of incline,” Sandra said. “My cartilage [in my right knee] had deteriorated, and it was bone-on-bone.”
This latest injury made a knee replacement surgery suddenly necessary, and Dr. Heincker was Sandra’s surgeon of choice.
“I was referred by two neighbors,” Sandra said. “One gentleman had a double-knee replacement, and the other neighbor had procedures and injections with Dr. Heincker, as well. In other words, I was referred by people I trust. I could visibly see their ability to function and their improved quality of life.”
The knee replacement surgery, however, was ultimately Sandra’s decision.
“Dr. Heincker is very good at wanting you, the individual patient, to make the decision based on how your injury is affecting your life,” Sandra said. “He can’t make it [the decision] for you.”
Prior to having the surgery this March, Sandra’s care team took the time to discuss pros and cons, initial limitations, regulations and medications involved with having knee replacement surgery. The day of surgery, Dr. Heincker also stopped by to see if Sandra had any last-minute questions or concerns.
“Dr. Heincker told me what to expect the day of surgery and also stopped by the day of my release to check back in,” Sandra said. “Everyone was very thorough and covered all the possibilities. I usually go to the doctor with a list. I never felt rushed or [made to feel] like I was asking a silly question.”
After a 36-hour stay in the hospital, Sandra’s recovery went better than expected.
“I only used the walker for three days, and my cane for one week,” Sandra said. “In three weeks, I was even able to walk the two-and-a-half blocks home from church.”
Physical therapy was an essential part of Sandra’s recovery.
For the first two weeks post-surgery, Sandra was homebound, with Phelps Health physical and occupational therapists coming to her home. The therapists came equipped with printouts of the exercises and demonstrated how to do each one. Nurses also came once a week to check her vitals, medications and overall well-being, in addition to her surgery site.
Recovering from a knee replacement surgery can best be described as a marathon, not a sprint.
“I still have a lot of healing to do; it’s a long-term process,” Sandra said. “Swelling could last for up to 12 months. I’m using ice, topical ointments and a low dose of over-the-counter medication to manage the swelling and occasional pain, as needed. Some days, however, I feel no pain. It’s important to know your limitations. I’m very cautious of the low spots in my yard when watering flowers, for example.
“I recently overdid it,” Sandra said. “Soon after my surgery, my daughter and I went on a bus tour to Niagara Falls, where I enjoyed the beautiful sights and even drove an Indy 500 simulator car at speeds of up to 205 mph.”
While she doesn’t regret the trip, Sandra said it was a bit of a step back.
“PT [physical therapy] worked hard to get me back to where I was, prior to my trip,” Sandra said. “They worked it out, were great observers of my pain, and even extended PT at my request. Things constantly change as we heal, but I feel good and am meeting my benchmarks.”
Looking back, Sandra has nothing but praise for her Phelps Health care team.
“It’s amazing to know that the discomfort you put up with has a resolution,” Sandra said. “All the way from the receptionist to the central operator to my doctor, everyone has been so courteous and professional. And this is in a post-COVID world, where [healthcare organizations] are faced with even more challenges. Despite how busy they may be, they never appeared rushed and or had any shortness in their tone. Any time I was there, their focus was on me, the patient.”