After two knee replacements in less than two years, Pam Garceau shares her experience with both traditional and robotic procedures.
When the little things you enjoy become difficult or impossible to do without pain, it’s time to find a solution. Sometimes – like in the case of Wheeling resident Pam Garceau – the solution includes total knee replacement of both knees. Her two surgeries were completed in less than two years, one done traditionally and one robotic-assisted.
Now in her mid-50s, Pam was having trouble doing things she enjoyed, so she sought the help of Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) Orthopedics. As a teacher and single mom, living with pain was not an option, so after trying cortisone shots to relieve the pain, it was time for a permanent solution. “I have osteoarthritis, which runs in my family,” Pam says. “The pain was getting worse, and the cortisone shots worked less and less.”
Working with Thomas Kim, M.D., Pam had surgery to repair several meniscus tears, and also tried gel pain-relief injections, but nothing gave her back the pain-free mobility she needed. “Everything we tried worked somewhat, but not well enough,” Pam says. “Finally as summer 2019 approached, I just thought ‘I have to do it.’”
She had to wait three months for the gel to leave her system – putting her first total knee replacement at the end of August, the worst time of year for a teacher. “My school was very understanding and helpful,” she says.
The first surgery, performed in the traditional manner by Dr. Kim, went very well.
“They used a nerve block on my leg, which was wonderful because it kept the pain away – but I did have to wear a huge leg brace,” Pam recalls. “Within a week, I was able to go up and down the stairs. My teenage daughters were home, and I had friends who helped with any care I needed.”
Dr. Kim recommended Pam take 10 weeks off of work to recover, and she was glad she did. “I needed them,” she says. “I used a walker to build up my strength for about six weeks, and then I used a cane until I went back to work.”
Pam’s care team prepared her for what to expect. “The procedure and recovery were just as my care team explained it would be, and it took the time they said it would take,” she says. There were times when she couldn’t participate in things, like the Halloween parade, when she had to sit while a volunteer mom led the parade. Accepting help was an important part of Pam’s recovery, considering her classroom room is upstairs, and a typical day requires 15 to 20 trips up and down. “I had an aide who would bring the students downstairs to gym class, so I wouldn’t have to keep going up and down the stairs.”
“There were times when it would bother me, and I used lots of ice,” she says, “but from what I’ve heard from other people, mine went very well. I was able to function, and ice was my best friend!”
That first surgery was so successful, it inspired Pam to quickly schedule her second knee replacement. This time, Dr. Kim performed the procedure using robotic technology. “The goal of joint replacement surgery is to place the implant in proper alignment with proper soft tissue balancing,” the Harvard Medical School graduate explains. “Robotic technology takes accuracy to a whole new level. Computer navigation used in robotic surgery allows doctors to detect differences as small as half a millimeter and half a degree, giving unprecedented levels of accuracy and precision. Evidence supports that a better aligned and balanced knee results in earlier recovery with less pain and stiffness, improved function and patient satisfaction.”
Having been through one knee replacement, Pam says she knew what to expect from the second. “We were teaching remotely due to the pandemic,” she says, “and I wanted to be recovered in time for the next school year in August 2021. I scheduled the procedure at the beginning of May, so I would have the full summer to recover.”
She didn’t need that much time.
Pam recalls, “This time, I was ready! I had a walker for upstairs at the house, and another for downstairs.” Dr. Kim did the surgery, and right away it felt different. The nerve block this time enabled her to feel most of her leg, but no pain at all. She didn’t need to use a leg brace after the first day at home.
She remembers the first surgery being effective and meeting her expectations, but the second one was surprisingly easier. “The first surgery went well, and the second – it’s unbelievable. Like, unbelievable. I knew what to expect, but this time, within four days, I didn’t need a walker anymore. I didn’t need a cane. I would put my hand on the couch or the wall to steady myself, but I just didn’t need anything.
“I would go out to get the mail, and neighbors would comment, ‘what are you doing, didn’t you just have surgery?’ It was unreal. I went for my physical therapy and had the same therapist as I had for the first procedure. During the initial assessment, he noted that I was much further along than I was with my right knee. Other patients would be there doing their own therapy and they would ask, ‘Did I hear you right – you just had surgery a week and a half ago?’ That’s how well I was doing, how quickly I was recovering.”
Her therapist helped Pam focus on her main goals, which were making sure her legs were strong for the stairs at school, and getting back to the things she loved, like the bending and stretching required to work in the garden, without pain.
“It’s the little things,” she says. “I laugh because I could never do simple things like turn on the faucet to water plants around the front porch. Now, I just bend down and every time I’m like, ‘Wait! I can do that?’
“I tell everyone about my experience with Dr. Kim, and how much time the robotic procedure took off of recovery and how much easier it was.”
*Dr. Kim is an independent physician in the community with privileges at NCH. He is not an employee or agent of NCH. No two cases are the same; results may vary.