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A Different Handicap

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A Different Handicap

October 09, 2000
By Tom Keppeler, Knee1 Staff

If you were to talk to Newell Johnson before last March, he would have told you about his knee pain: on a scale of 1 to 10, he would say, it was a 20. Ask him about his knees now, and he’d rather tell you about his golf game.

Johnson, 72, suffered through years of osteoarthritis and treatments that just wouldn’t work for him. Synvisc Injections. Hyalgan Injections. Glucosamine supplements. Celebrex. Vioxx. Nothing killed the pain or increased his mobility. “I went through it all,” Johnson says. “Finally, the doctor said my only option would be a knee replacement.”

Johnson agreed, and soon found himself traveling 150 miles to a hospital in Sylvia, N.C. to have his new left knee implanted by Dr. Clifford Faull. Johnson stayed awake for most of the procedure, watching Faull and his team remove the damaged parts of his tibia (shinbone) and femur (thighbone), implant steel caps and artificial cartilage, and finally implant and connect his new Smith & Nephew knee. “There’s really not that much to [the surgery],” Johnson says. “Get yourself an epidural, watch it if you want to, nap if you want to.”

After the procedure, Johnson discovered that it was up to him to recover as soon as possible. It would be easier than he thought, however: upon leaving the hospital three days after the procedure, he stood up from his wheelchair, and declared to his wife that he felt better then than when he had entered the hospital. (Note to readers: do not stand on your knee after surgery until your doctor tells you to. –ed.) “I thought to myself, ‘Why didn’t I do this two or three years ago?’” Johnson says. He soon began his recovery regimen, which included pedaling miles on a stationary bike, stretching and other exercises to increase his mobility and range of motion.

His hard work paid off. After three weeks of physical therapy, Johnson threw away his cane. At five weeks, he says, he had achieved his physical therapist’s goal: 120 degrees of flexion. Before his surgery, Johnson could hardly climb stairs, and he longed to hit the links of Callaway Gardens, the world-class golf course that surrounds his neighborhood in Pine Mountain, GA. Now, he’s back on the golf course, working toward the handicap of 9 he knew in his younger days.

X Rays reveal that Johnson’s right knee is also damaged, but he says it does not cause him any pain. However, because his first total knee replacement was so successful, Johnson says he may have the other replaced before long. “It was quick, easy, and I feel great,” he says. Despite a 12-inch scar down the center of his knee and arthritis that acts up when it rains, Johnson says. It didn’t come without a lot of hard work, however. “As soon as you’re out of the surgery room, the doctor’s job is done. That’s where yours begins,” Johnson says.

For so many patients, the key to recovery is having something to look forward to at the end. The light at the end of the tunnel for 72-year-old Newell Johnson was returning to the greens of Pine Mountain. By choosing an experienced surgeon, setting goals, and participating in his recovery, Johnson has recovered from his knee replacement and emerged from it more active and confident than ever. Johnson shot an 89 over 18 holes a few weeks ago. As with his recovery, there’s always room to get better.

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