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A new set of knees means a new lease on life

Orthopedic patient Warren Youell riding a bicycle through a neighborhood

When he heard a “pop” in his left knee, Warren knew it was time to do something

It may be one of the most common orthopedic procedures in the United States, but knee replacement surgery is no small thing. Especially if you’re talking about both knees.

That was the scenario 69-year-old Warren Youel faced three years ago, after his chronic knee pain went from bad to worse one day during a bike ride. “I was riding up a hill and I just heard this ‘pop’ from my left knee,” the Florence resident and avid cyclist recalled.

I wanted a better quality of life

Warren consulted with Bruce Watanabe, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center in Florence, Oregon. X-rays revealed that both knees were in bad shape — mostly from years of wear and tear from playing basketball and other sports, but also from two previous procedures: medial collateral ligament (MCL) surgery on his left knee in 1968 (waterskiing accident) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repair on his right knee in 1996.

“We discussed less invasive options,” Warren said. “I had cortisone shots, which provided some temporary relief. But it became clear pretty quickly that the pain in my knees was going to significantly restrict my activity. It was basically just bone on bone, and I could barely walk even one block. I decided I wanted to have a better quality of life.”

Dr. Watanabe ultimately recommended replacement surgery for both knees.

Best odds for an active life

“For someone as fit and active as Warren, this course of treatment offered the best odds for leading the kind of active life he was used to and wanted to continue,” Dr. Watanabe said. “He knew going into it that he’d basically be recovering for the better part of two years, but he understood it would be worth the wait.”

Keeping fit rose to the top of Warren’s priority list 20 years ago, when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. With the demands of work—he’d been a certified public accountant, then chief financial officer for a client, and went on to purchase and run an equipment rental business—he’d grown complacent about his health.

“The diabetes was a wakeup call,” said Warren, who lost 40 pounds after the diagnosis. “I had a family history of diabetes, and heart disease, too. I’ve been committed to staying healthy and exercising ever since.”

Dr. Watanabe replaced Warren’s left knee in May of 2016; exactly one year later, the right knee went under the knife.

It was the right choice

More than 600,000 Americans have knee replacement surgery every year. The procedure involves removing damaged cartilage and replacing it with new joint surfaces. The ends of the damaged thigh and lower leg (shin) bones and usually the kneecap are capped with artificial surfaces, which are lined with metal and plastic. As is typical with most patients, Dr. Watanabe replaced the entire surface at the ends of Warren’s thigh and lower leg bones.

“It takes a long time for a knee to heal,” Warren said. “Each time it was 10 weeks of rehab. Each week you make progress, but it was a struggle. I had pretty good muscle strength, so that helped.”

One year after his last surgery, Warren says there’s no question that knee replacement was the right choice. He’s back on his bicycle five days a week, and has even done a couple of 50-milers in the last year. He and his wife, Linda, enjoy vigorous hikes both in the Florence area and in Arizona, where they spend seven months out of the year.

“I’ve been quite pleased—I’m really totally happy with the results,” he said. “It’s not like having your own knees—the range of motion isn’t quite as great. But I’m basically able to do everything I want to do again.”

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