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For over a decade, Ann Statz endured substantial knee pain that limited her mobility and restricted her activity. The 59-year-old Eau Claire, Wisconsin, resident avoided stairs at all costs and could hardly make it through a trip to the grocery store without stopping to sit down.
Because of the pain, she became less active and started putting on weight, exacerbating the problem.
“Every time I’d go in to talk to a doctor about it, I was too young for any knee surgery and was always told to try to lose weight, which is hard to do when you can’t move,” says Ann, a retired financial specialist.
Ready for change
In summer 2017, shortly after retiring, Ann was ready to take action — or at least try. She made an appointment with a nurse practitioner in Orthopedics at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, with hopes of beginning her surgical journey. However, her weight still kept surgery out of reach.
“I needed to lose quite a bit,” says Ann. “The standard body mass index is 40 before they would consider doing knee surgery. At my heaviest, I was up to a 48.”
Ann says the news was disappointing, even though she had joined a weight loss program with her husband months before and already had lost about 50 pounds. But she was determined. Although it took almost a year, Ann went on to shed the weight she needed to have knee surgery.
Ann had surgery on her right knee in March 2018 and the left knee in June. Both surgeries and subsequent rehabilitation and recovery periods went well. Ann — who has lost nearly 140 pounds — is thinner than she’s been since high school and says she’s feeling healthier than ever.
“Before surgery, I couldn’t walk to the end of the block without getting winded and hurting. It was just horrid,” she says. “Now I can do three miles at a time and take the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s just incredible what a difference the surgeries have made.”
The Orthopedics team typically looks for three criteria to move forward with surgical intervention:
- Radiographic evidence that an arthritic process is going on with bone-on-bone changes
- Being in the right mindset for surgery and believing all conservative treatments have been exhausted
- Being physically ready for surgery
The last point can be the hardest to discuss with patients, but research reports and evidence show that if patients’ bodies aren’t ready, they're at higher risk for wound healing problems, infection and other complications.
The suggestion to lose weight is always approached with sensitivity. It can be devastating when complications arise, and orthopedic providers want patients to have the best return to function possible.
Setting up for success
“Modifiable risk factors are the things that we’re constantly looking to improve upon,” he says. “Technically, in a lot of ways, weight is a modifiable risk factor. It’s not an easy thing to do. It took time, support and effort, but I do feel that it ultimately helped Ann heal better and recover more smoothly.”
Dr. Webb marvels at Ann’s determination and commends her for losing the weight on her own — without resorting to bariatric surgery.
“She wholeheartedly believed in the importance of weight loss — not just for her knees and the ability to go through a surgery — but to become a healthier person,” says Dr. Webb. “She embraced that and took it to a whole new level.”
Ann says weight has always been an issue for her. “Since grade school, I’ve struggled with my weight, and it's been up and down over the years,” she says. But she's confident she has it under control now.
In April, her husband gave her a fitness tracker. “That has really been a motivator for me to keep going and moving and being active,” she says. "I average between 11,000 and 12,000 steps a day."
Enjoying benefits of better health
Ann now has improved her health so much that she no longer needs any medications. She recently discontinued taking high blood pressure medication. Even some of her allergy-related asthma issues have improved, she says.
“This is the healthiest I’ve been in many years,” Ann says, praising Dr. Webb and others for the pivotal roles they played in her care.
“I’m amazed at what a difference this has made in my life, and I’m grateful for how they have made this possible for me,” she says.