June 25, 2019
One of the great joys in Nancy Conn-Levin’s life is spending time with her 6-year-old granddaughter. Last Valentine’s Day, when her granddaughter invited her to an impromptu dance party, she had a bittersweet realization.
“It was the first time I danced without pain in more than five years,” Nancy says. “My granddaughter had no previous memories of me living without pain or with full mobility. It was an incredibly joyful experience.”
That pain-free dance party was made possible by partial knee replacement surgery in October 2018 at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Living With Pain
Following an injury in March 2014, Nancy had arthroscopic knee surgery on her left leg. Soon after, she developed progressive osteoarthritis in that knee, which caused pain and limited her mobility. In July 2015, she consulted with orthopedists to discuss conservative, non-surgical options.
“I wanted to delay surgery,” the retired health educator says. “I was taking care of my granddaughter, who was a baby then. I couldn’t have a period of being disabled, so I needed to postpone any further surgery until she was older.”
Nancy’s non-surgical treatment plan then included a combination of cortisone injections and Orthovisc (hyaluronic acid) injections, which provided some cushioning within the joint. But after three years of injections, her symptoms worsened to the point of significantly impacting her quality of life. So she began researching orthopedic surgeons to plan for knee replacement surgery.
Nancy’s neighbor, who had knee replacement surgery a few months earlier, pointed her to Gregory Roehrig, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Jersey Shore. “My neighbor had osteoarthritis in her knees for a while, and I saw how positive and quick her recovery was after surgery,”
Nancy says. “So Dr. Roehrig was the first person I wanted to see for a consultation.”
After her initial consultation with Dr. Roehrig, Nancy felt immediately confident that he was the right surgeon for her. “It’s like a first date—you just know when they’re the right one for you,” she says.
The Right Fit
Upon meeting Nancy, Dr. Roehrig followed the typical process in order to make the best
possible recommendation for her situation. “With all patients, I ask questions to determine how much their condition interferes with quality of life and ability to remain active and independent. I find out what treatments have already been rendered and discuss non-surgical
options that haven’t been tried,” he says. “We always take the whole patient picture and evaluate the risk-to-benefit ratio. Every patient is different.”
In Nancy’s case, this process uncovered an uncommon but critical factor: “I mentioned having an allergy to nickel, which I discovered long ago from reactions to earrings containing nickel, and I asked if this was important for surgical planning,” she says.
Dr. Roehrig urged her to see an allergist for a full panel of metal allergy testing. “We don’t do that for every patient, but given Nancy’s history, we wanted to know which metals she was allergic to,” he says.
Ellen Sher, M.D., an allergist at Jersey Shore, tested 29 different substances and discovered
that Nancy wasn’t just allergic to nickel, but also cobalt and palladium. An implant containing these metals could cause her unexplained pain, persistent inflammation in the knee or early failure, where the body reacts and the implants come unglued from the bone.
Armed with that information, Dr. Roehrig researched the ingredients of various implants to find the one that would offer the lowest risk. “He went above and beyond to find something that would fit the needs for my surgery and be safe without risk of allergic reaction,” Nancy says.
Nancy’s allergy testing went a long way in terms of preparing her for a successful outcome. But that wasn’t the only preparation. She attended a preoperative class at Jersey Shore in which she learned more about joint replacement services and was engaged by a multi-disciplinary team encompassing physical therapy, occupational therapy and more.
“We focus on patient optimization prior to surgery—how we can get a patient the healthiest and most ready for their operation to reduce the chance of complication and give the best chance of a good outcome and recovery,” Dr. Roehrig says.
As a result of that preoperative class, Nancy made an appointment with Colleen Ehrmann, DPT, a physical therapist at Hackensack Meridian Health Rehabilitation at Neptune. “She provided a comprehensive evaluation of my condition before surgery and designed a home exercise program that I could follow to strengthen the area around my knee,” Nancy says. “I was lucky enough to continue my post-operative outpatient physical therapy with Colleen for more than four months.”
A Positive and Proactive Approach
By Nancy’s six-month follow-up appointment with Dr. Roehrig, she had already met or exceeded her pre-operative rehabilitation goals. Today she is enjoying life in ways that she hasn’t been able to in years. “I am amazed at what an enormous positive change there has been in my daily routine,” she says. “I am grateful to be able to return to all of the activities I’ve missed, including walks on my favorite parts of the boardwalk and being able to enjoy the beach.”
Nancy commends her medical staff for her outstanding care. “From the moment that I entered Jersey Shore on the morning of my surgery to when I was discharged three days later, I had an incredibly positive experience with the people who cared for me,” she says. “The nurses, physicians, patient care associates, physical therapists, dietary assistants and other people I met were exceptional.”
But Dr. Roehrig attributes Nancy’s incredible results to her own strong will to succeed. “Nancy is a person who took a proactive and positive approach to recovery,” he says. “She believed she would do well and improve her quality of life, and that optimism helped tremendously.”
Dr. Roehrig is board certified in orthopedic surgery. To make an appointment with Dr. Roehrig or one of the Hackensack Meridian Health orthopedic surgeons, call 1-800-560-9990.
Read about Nancy’s rehabilitation[link to home care article], including the in-home recovery and rehabilitation services provided through Hackensack Meridian Health At Home.
Learn more about the joint replacement program at Hackensack Meridian Health.
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