When Renee Yahara was dashing out of the ocean on a January day in 2019, she was thinking about the chill running through her body from the icy water and the warm coat that was awaiting her on the shore. What she wasn’t thinking about—to her surprise and relief—was the osteoarthritis pain in her knees. Unlike the last time she made the Polar Bear Plunge in her home town of Wildwood, New Jersey, to raise money for Special Olympics, her knees made the trip in and out of the surf without a twinge of discomfort.
“Whenever it was cold out, my knees would hurt. So, of course, running into the freezing cold ocean when it’s 40 degrees out didn’t help too much,” reports Renee, 52, the mother of four grown children and a grandmother to three. “But this time I had no problem at all. It was fun.”
That’s because four months earlier, Renee had received a double knee replacement, and after following her prescribed rehab, this crazy ocean dip was just one of the long list of activities she has been able to enjoy again (if enjoy is the right word for swimming in frigid water). The fun she is re-experiencing includes playing tennis, dancing with her husband, tubing behind her boat, and clamming in the bay.
“I’d try to go dancing [before surgery], but most of the time I’d just move my hips because I couldn’t move my legs,” says Renee, an administrative assistant at the guidance office at a local high school and the aquatics director at another school. “Or if I did do more, the next day I’d be laid up on the couch because my knees were all swollen and I was in so much pain.”
Renee spent a lot of her 40s on her sofa, nursing sore knees. “My husband and I are always, always, always doing something. We’re not the type of people to sit around,” she explains.
Sadly, as she got closer to 50, doctors kept classifying more and more activities she enjoyed as off-limits. “I used to walk three miles around the school campus at lunch, but they said I couldn’t even do that anymore because there were different kinds of pavement and they were afraid that would get me off balance and make my knees worse.”
Taking a Different Kind of Plunge
And then she started to limp. Badly.
“I got to the point that I overcompensated for one knee, and that impacted the other knee. I was limping that much. Now I had both knees that were bad,” she reports. What’s more, Renee was having trouble sleeping from the pain and gaining weight because she was exercising less. An MRI revealed the knee that didn’t start out hurting was now worse than the original “problem knee.” That’s when her doctor, who said her knees looked to be 40 years older than her true age, said she shouldn’t wait any longer for knee replacement surgery.
“It scared me to not know what would happen afterward,” she said.
Her fears were allayed by a surgeon who showed her the ATTUNE®Knee , which Renee describes as looking so sleek it seemed like it belonged in The Bionic Man. Her surgeon felt the ATTUNE Knee would be the right fit for her based on her active lifestyle. In fact, two recent global studies found that ATTUNE Knee patients felt more confident in their knee performance after surgery, compared to patients who had a knee replacement with another leading knee system .
Optimistic, Renee scheduled to have both knees replaced in October 2018. With a successful surgery and hard work in rehab, Renee returned to work in a month. Now, looking back on it all, she wants to pay the knowledge she gained forward to anyone considering a knee replacement surgery, the same way her 72-year-old father, Francis Zielinski, benefited from her experience when he had his knee replaced just recently.
Arthritis in Knees: Getting Ready for Surgery and Recovery
From her experience, Renee has three pieces of advice for anyone who plans on getting a knee replacement.
Before surgery, Renee rode a stationary bike to strengthen her quads, which she was told would help with recovery time. And because she was having both knees done at once, she understood that she would need more upper body strength to get herself off the sofa or the bed. For that, she used weight machines at her local gym.
Don’t be shy about accepting help
This was difficult for a go-getter like Renee. “I told everyone I’d be fine,” she remembers. “But you don’t realize how much help you’ll need afterward.” Looking back, she knows she couldn’t have made it without assistance. Her husband took the first couple of days off work, of course, and her father Francis stayed at their house during the week to make sure she had everything she needed.
Research physical therapists in advance
During the lead up to her surgery, Renee visited several physical therapy facilities and chose one where she could tell that the therapists weren’t soft on the patients. “When I met my therapist, I told him to keep pushing me even if I said to stop,” she reports. She knew she would need that encouragement and extra motivation through her personal recovery journey. It turns out that her instructions to the therapist were wise, since during their post-surgery sessions, she did indeed ask him to stop, but he kept her on track. What she learned from this experience is that it’s essential to put your heart into physical therapy in order to improve your outcome.
Renee’s hard work paid off. Soon after she returned to work, she was back in the gym doing three to five miles on an elliptical trainer. After a couple months, she was in New York City, walking around without a problem to view all the Christmas decorations. Then came the January Polar Plunge, and in the spring, Renee was on a family cruise “jumping on a water trampoline with my son and sliding down a water slide. And I was perfectly fine.”
Her recovery was not only a relief to her, but an inspiration for her father, Francis. He had it in his mind that it would take “forever” to get back to normal after such a surgery, but her example showed him that joint replacement surgery had progressed more than he imagined. “I couldn’t stand the pain anymore in my knee,” he reports. “And seeing how it worked for her, I felt like it was time I did it myself. Her ability to function fully, without pain, was encouraging. She was again active, as she was before.”
Francis chose the same surgeon, and the same ATTUNE Knee. “I saw how she advanced so quickly, and I figured I couldn’t go wrong,” he says, and he was right. Though, of course, everyone’s outcomes are different, Francis had similar recovery results. “By the second week, I felt great, and I just kept feeling better and better and better.”
Fittingly, it was Renee who took care of her widower father during his recovery, since he had followed her advice and set up a plan for his after-surgery support. “My everyday morale changed, knowing that I would not have to go through life with pain and discomfort,” Francis says. “I was able to function fully again.” For him that meant walking on the treadmill at his gym, dancing, climbing ladders to take care of chores around his house. And he’s encouraging others to talk with their doctor about knee replacement, including his brother. “I told him that if he needs a knee operation he should talk with his doctor,” he says. “I told him he should not go through life with pain, if it can be avoided.”
Renee couldn’t agree more. Contemplating her life post-surgery, Renee says, “I was playing with my nieces at the beach the other day, and it just hit me how grateful I am to do these things when it used to hurt just to walk in the sand. I can truly have fun again.”
Important Safety Information:
It’s important to remember that the performance of knee replacements depends on age, weight, activity level and other factors. There are potential risks and recovery takes time. People with conditions limiting rehabilitation should not have these surgeries. Only an orthopedic surgeon can determine if knee replacement is necessary based on an individual patient’s condition.
This article is the second of a three-part series sponsored by DePuy Synthes® and ATTUNE®Knee.