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Waiting for surgery is rarely fun. Laurie Bakkum of Spooner, Wisconsin, knows firsthand how that feels. Her knee replacement surgery was postponed when the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.
"After I learned that surgeries were postponed because of COVID-19, I resigned myself to waiting months to have the pain relief a knee replacement would bring," says Laurie.
At that time, many health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic Health System, postponed some surgeries to protect patient and staff safety while caring for the influx of COVID patients. This included elective surgeries like hip, knee and shoulder replacements.
"With the surge in COVID patients in Wisconsin over the last couple of months, especially with our region in Eau Claire, we have had to make the tough decision to stop elective operations so we can focus solely on patients that need significant medical care in our hospital," says Dr. Webb.
Thankfully, Mayo Clinic Health System teams were working hard and in creative ways to continue to meet the needs of the patients. In many areas, care teams shifted to virtual care and telemedicine instead of in-person visits.
Other departments, such as Orthopedics, made plans to care for patients and perform procedures after surgical staff was reassigned to care for patients with COVID-19. These plans included a new process that moved patients to different Mayo Clinic Health System locations for surgery. For example, patients who normally would have had surgery in Eau Claire could travel to La Crosse for the procedure.
Laurie was one of the first Eau Claire patients to have knee surgery completed in La Crosse, and she was happy to take advantage of the opportunity.
"When Dr. Webb mentioned that he could perform my surgery in La Crosse, I was elated and happy to travel the three hours from Spooner," says Laurie. "I like to ride my bike, hike with friends, and I also enjoy winter activities like snowshoeing. Just because I'm 71 years old doesn't mean I'm ready to be done living an active life. I have three little grandchildren, and my knee surgery is the reason I can run around with them."
Charles Nolte, D.O., an orthopedic surgeon in La Crosse, says his staff was happy to help out any way, and that the collaboration between the Eau Claire and La Crosse teams is a great example of how something good can come out of a bad situation.
"Taking care of a patient in 2020 was a real challenge," says Dr. Nolte. "We have all been faced with our own challenges of COVID-19, and I think this is the silver lining."
To prepare for Laurie's surgery, the teams began the planning process to bring Cory Stewart, M.D., and Dr. Webb to La Crosse for surgeries. Christine Feller, operations administrator for Orthopedics, credits teamwork in accomplishing this effort.
"We had great teams helping to coordinate everything from proper electronic health record access, credentialing and security access to supply, equipment and medication needs," says Christine. "With any surgery, there is significant behind-the-scenes work happening outside the operating room. That work is compounded when you bring in a provider and their patients from another location."
Laurie arrived in La Crosse for her surgery with Dr. Webb.
"From the moment I arrived at the surgical center, everything was amazing. Everyone had my comfort and well-being in mind," she says.
Like Laurie, Dr. Webb is appreciative of the teamwork displayed by his colleagues.
"The staff in La Crosse is amazing," says Dr. Webb. "They are exceedingly caring, thoughtful and helpful, especially in the challenging times we are in. Most importantly, it was their openness and willingness to work with us on things that were different for them. They were on board and excited to help us and our patients."
Dr. Stewart also has performed surgeries in La Crosse and agrees with Dr. Webb's assessment.
"This collaboration between Eau Claire and La Crosse really exemplifies how putting our values, especially teamwork, into practice benefits our patients," he says. "Some patients have been waiting a long time for their surgeries. Because of this collaboration across so many departments, the patients can continue with their life plans. This can really go a long way in a time when nothing is certain and help them take the next steps to move on in their recovery."
Laurie stresses that her entire care team has been nothing less than professional. With her surgery behind her, she is undergoing physical therapy for her knee and already is walking around the house without a cane.
"Without the volunteers and receptionists who welcomed me, the knowledgeable and kind nurses and aides, the anesthesiologist and anesthetists who did a wonderful job of informing me of everything they were doing, and the physical therapy team who gave me good instruction, my smooth recovery would not be possible," says Laurie. "I am impressed with this team."