St. Ambrose University Journalism professor and former WQAD-TV reporter Alan Sivell, 64, is putting his two new knees through the paces — fulfilling a goal to ride across Iowa in RAGBRAI, July 19-25. Alan is kicking into high gear, cycling about 100 miles a week to train for the 2015 event that begins with a back tire dip in the Missouri River and ends when riders dip their front tire in the Mississippi River at Davenport. “My new ‘bionic’ knees are just a beautiful thing,” says Alan. “When I think about the pain before knee replacement surgery, I am so grateful now that I got both knees replaced.”
Alan, like many active patients over 50, points to a lifetime of physical activity and a demanding career that took its toll on his knees. “Between 35 years of running and my television and teaching careers that kept me on my feet every day, my physicians at ORA Orthopedics found most of my cartilage had worn away. I was suffering with severe pain. For several years, periodic cortisone shots helped, but it got so bad, I couldn’t walk the stairs to my classroom without fear of falling at St. Ambrose — I knew it was time for surgery.” Alan had his first knee replaced in 2013 and his second knee about a year later.
Alan’s physician, Dr. Joseph Martin, specializes in total hip and knee surgery and says Alan’s knees definitely needed replacement. “Alan had severe bone-on-bone arthritis.” Dr. Martin says age and activity can contribute to arthritis and in Alan’s case, years of being on his feet took its toll on his knee joints. “I tell patients they’ll know when it’s time for surgery when they can no longer maintain a reasonably active lifestyle. Patients start to have problems sleeping, cannot tolerate impact on their knees, and their lives begin to shrink as they are unable to participate in their favorite sports or leisure activities.”
Total knee replacement has become a viable alternative for adults who want to stay active. Dr. Martin says the total knee replacement procedure basically resurfaces the knee. “We remove the arthritic surface in surgery and then insert metal and medical-grade plastic components that replace the knee’s worn surface.” The surgery takes about an hour and the patient is up walking right away. The hospital stay lasts only a day or two. Physical therapy is necessary for approximately six weeks. Patients continue to improve over six months to a year.
ORA performs more total knee replacements than any other orthopedic practice in the region, with over 1,200 total knee replacements performed each year. Alan’s recovery was swift. “My rehab has been terrific. I feel great. I used a walker for a few days, then a cane for a few weeks. I actually went to a White Sox game two weeks after my first surgery! I haven’t had any knee pain. Now I want bionic shoulders and elbows,” he laughs. “If I had a bionic arm, I could throw a mean fastball!”
Dr. Martin says knee replacement technology and less-invasive surgical techniques will allow many patients to keep their new knees for decades, but he cautions patients who insist on knee replacements too soon. “This is a major surgery and very successful, but we want to ensure all of our patients keep their original knees for as long as possible, because the older you are when you get new knees, the more likely you won’t need another replacement surgery in 20 or 30 years.” Dr. Martin says overall, hip and knee replacement surgeries are considered to be some of the most successful because complication rates are low and 90-95% of patients are glad they underwent the procedure.
For Alan, his new knees will power him across Iowa’s cornfields right into Davenport, where RAGBRAI ends. Each day, Alan will blog about Quad City area residents riding on RAGBRAI, and he’s looking forward to telling their stories for ORA’s Let’s Move Quad Cities’ web site and social media channels. “I like to find everyday people who accomplish extraordinary things and share their stories to inspire others.” Alan is also likely to spot his physician and friend, Dr. Martin, who along with ORA physician, Dr. Mark Stewart, is riding RAGBRAI, too.