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No Hike Too High, No Trail Too Long for Laura Brown

Laura Brown is an avid traveler and outdoorswoman. She has taken trips around the world to trek beautiful scenic trails in places like Canada and Europe with her daughter, Megan.

For many years, there wasn’t much that could keep her from a good hiking trail — until arthritis in her knee sidelined her from hiking and a lot of other activities she enjoyed.Laura Brown and Megan hiking

“I love to travel, backpack and bike, but the pain from the arthritis had gotten to a point where all of that was difficult for me to do,” Brown said. “I am a very active person, and I’ve hiked all over the world. Every year, my daughter and I take a three-week vacation to somewhere in the world. We’ve hiked in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. We’ve hiked on the coast of Iceland and all over Europe. We camp in our car sometimes. Sometimes we stay in hostels. It’s always fun. We find trails and just hike. It’s been a neat bond for us and something that we enjoy.”

But with Brown’s knee pain hindering her from these treasured adventures, she decided to do something about it.

On the morning of Jan. 7, 2019, Brown underwent a total knee replacement at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton, and by that night she was comfortably recovering at home with her husband, Marshall.

Brown was the first patient to undergo a total knee replacement as an outpatient at Tanner. Being an outpatient meant that she would have surgery and be discharged home the same day, just hours after her post-operative care was done.

Same-day surgery has become increasingly possible for some people who are considering knee replacement surgery, said Anthony Colpini, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Carrollton Orthopeadic Clinic and an orthopedic specialist on the medical staff at Tanner Ortho and Spine Center. Dr. Colpini is Brown’s orthopedic physician and was her surgeon for the procedure.

“Lots of procedures that used to require long hospital stays are available on an outpatient basis now,” said Dr. Colpini. “Now, once the anesthesia wears off and you see the patient isn’t having any complications, they’re ready to go home. Advances in orthopedic surgery are going down that same path as we’re able to work with more precision and less trauma, even for some of the most invasive procedures like joint replacements.”

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), more than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States, and a growing percentage of those are due to degenerative joint conditions such as arthritis.

“For about four years prior to my surgery, I had been going to see Dr. Colpini who had been treating the arthritis in my knees,” Brown said. “It had just gotten to a point where I could either continue to live like that or have surgery.”

At the time, she was undergoing only short-term solutions to treat her pain, but Dr. Colpini helped her consider an alternative.

“I started out getting knee injections for pain every six months,” Brown said. “Over the course of a year, it started to taper down to every three months, then to every six weeks. I asked Dr. Colpini when I would know for sure when to have my knee done and he said when I get tired of living with the limitations.”

Laura Brown and husband hiking with waterfallDr. Colpini said that because Brown was healthy and the only problem she had was the arthritis in her knee, she was an excellent candidate for an outpatient knee replacement.

Due to the complexity of total knee replacement procedures and the home care and rehabilitation that’s required afterward, not everyone is a candidate for a same-day surgery; however, they may still be a candidate for traditional joint replacement surgery.

“These same day procedures are something that’s going on all over the country and it’s a procedure that works great with a select number of people who are very healthy and very motivated,” said Dr. Colpini. “That’s not something that’s completely unusual, but Laura was in really good shape and that made her a great candidate for same-day surgery.”

Dr. Colpini also explained how arthritis and pain takes a toll over time, and how some of the first things to decline is a person’s ability to complete daily activities and participate in sports activities, such as playing tennis, golfing, jogging and, in Brown’s case, hiking.

“Typically, what will start to happen is the knee begins to wear out and you have more and more problems with it,” he said. “You start to have trouble doing just daily activities. Pretty soon it gets to a point where you’re having trouble just getting your grocery shopping done. You might have difficulty sitting in church with your knees bent for a long period of time — all the things that we take for granted.”

Part of what has made knee replacements an option for a wider range of people has been the advancements made in the procedure — surgical advancements such as the state-of-the-art Stryker Mako robotic arm-assisted surgical system that Dr. Colpini used for Brown’s knee replacement.

“It allows for more precision and a surgery plan that’s personalized to that person, based on their preoperative CT scans,” Dr. Colpini said. “It also enables surgeons to achieve better balance of the knee joint.”

The Mako surgical system allows surgeons to perform orthopedic surgery with a greater level of precision than traditional replacement procedures and provides for a faster recovery and a more secure, longer-lasting joint replacement.

Tanner is the only orthopedics provider in the region offering joint replacement surgery on the Mako surgical system.

“Typically, with knee joint replacement procedures, people come back in to have their staples taken out at about 10 days to two weeks,” Dr. Colpini said. “The majority of them are using a cane or walker, but when they come back for their one-month follow-up, most of them aren’t. For some people, it does take a little while to get used to it. But most people are doing very well after two to three months.”

Patients like Brown are a prime example of just how fast someone can bounce back after surgery. Just a few weeks following her procedure, she said she’s feeling good and has made a lot of progress in physical therapy. She’s even experiencing better and better flexion and range of motion in her knee.

“I think if someone is considering knee replacement surgery, they should speak with a physician to determine if it’s the right thing for them,” Brown said. “I understand that each person is going to be unique. Dr. Colpini did a good job explaining that. I have known people who’ve had knee replacements before. I’ve heard people say that it was the most difficult surgery that they’ve ever had. It was a little hard, but the only really difficult part for me was the soreness. But I haven’t even had to take much medication besides an Advil. I also think doing prehabilitation really helped a lot to make my legs strong before the procedure. I am already prehabing my other leg to have my other knee done this spring.”

Brown also participated in Tanner’s Joint Academy, a comprehensive educational program that prepares joint replacement patients for surgery, providing them with knowledge and skills that will make their recovery go as smoothly as possible.

“One of the things I really like about Dr. Colpini — and I think that it adds a real personal touch — is that he talks to you as a patient and he makes sure that you understand everything that’s going on,” Brown said. “I didn’t have any concern going in because of that. He and the nurses explained everything, and they want to make sure you know exactly what is involved. I felt that I would get great care. And the success rate of this procedure is really good. I think the fact that it would be done with the Mako made it easier for me to make my decision.”

Having that level of support at every step made all the difference to her.

“The entire process was smooth, from preregistration on,” said Brown. “I felt like I had the care and support I needed at every step of the way, and there wasn’t a moment where I felt I didn’t know what was going on or happening next.”

In addition to being a globetrotter, Brown is also a registered nurse and a senior nurse supervisor at Tanner, where she’s worked for more than 40 years.

Living and working with the pain has been a long uphill battle for Brown, but her path after surgery is all “downhill” from here, and that second knee replacement procedure this spring is a date that she is very much looking forward to because it will bring her one step closer to getting back on the trails.

“I am a Tanner team member, but I really do have such faith in the people at Tanner and I know what good jobs they do,” Brown said. “It really wasn’t a question for me to have it done here, but I know it is for some people. Tanner offers a more personal touch. They care about their patients and they keep them informed as well as their visitors, like my husband and daughter who were there for my surgery. That meant a lot to me, too.”

Tanner Ortho and Spine Center has locations in Carrollton and Villa Rica.