Surgery Spotlight: Total Joint Replacement
If you’re considering surgery to treat the effects of arthritis, you likely have lots of questions swirling around in your head. While every case is unique, and there are many kinds of arthritis, it can be still be helpful to hear stories from people who have gone through surgeries themselves. Flourish talked with three different people living with arthritis about their journey.
Kris Harrison of Vancouver, BC was diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at age 4 and has been living with it for 40 years. He both hip joints and both knee joints replaced nearly 20 years ago. “I went in to see the surgeon to talk about my knees, but he also recommended replacing both hips, so that was a shock,” he remembers. After several months to think about it, he opted to go for it. “Because I was having multiple surgeries, the risk of infection did weigh on my mind,” he says. “However, it came down to quality of life. Before the surgery, I was quite debilitated—standing for 30 seconds caused a lot of pain. Now I can stand, I can walk a few blocks. I’m 100% happy that I had the surgeries.”
At age 23, Vancouver resident Alison Legge is a surgery veteran. Diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 3, she had jaw reconstruction surgery—it was broken in four places and reassembled with pins and screws when she was 16 with the hope of correcting a misaligned jaw. This was followed three years later by arthroscopic surgery to clean out the damaged joints. Unfortunately, despite medication and physiotherapy, Alison’s severe pain and limited jaw mobility continued, and she opted for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) replacement in both jaw joints just over a year ago.
“The surgery comes with a high risk of facial paralysis, because they have to cut in an area where the facial nerves are,” says Alison. “At that point I was willing not to be able to move an eyebrow if it meant that the pain would stop. My big concern is that the surgery wouldn’t work.” However, the surgery went very well. “It’s been life-changing. I sleep for 7 or 8 hours a night now, not 12 or 14 hours plus a nap in the day. I can eat most foods; I can go out and have a drink with my friends. I am fully off of all painkillers,” says Alison. “I look back to how it was a year ago and it’s crazy how much it’s shifted in one year.”
Sharon Gray of Coquitlam, BC says she approached her surgery for a total joint replacement of both knees with a positive attitude and a sense of humour. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA) in both knees 20 years ago at the age of 53, and had her surgery just over a year ago. “I live alone, so before the surgery I made sure my home was prepared—for example, I cleaned out my dining room so I could use it as a bedroom while I recovered, and I had a friend lined up to help for two weeks,” she says. “I did things like practice how I would put my socks on.” She also found an informal mentor, Maureen, who had also had bilateral knee replacements and was of a similar age and living situation. “Maureen’s top three tips were to take whatever pain medication they prescribed and to ask for more if I needed it, to go down stairs backwards, and not to be a hero!” says Sharon. Today, Sharon has passed those tips and others along to her own unofficial mentee, Sheila, whom she met through her niece. “Talking to someone who has gone through the same thing really helps throughout.”
Want more information? Visit the Arthritis Society’s Surgery pages.