Patient Story

Kathleen Blaes-Garcia shared about her experience with a procedure called Limited Knee Resurfacing, performed by Dr. Bruce Smith here at Wyoming Orthopedics and Sports Medicine.

Fixing Damaged Knees

Kathleen Blaes-Garcia is a kindergarten teacher at Jessup Elementary School in Cheyenne. She loves teaching and normally looks forward to each new school year. But the summer of 2008 was different: “My left knee was in so much pain from arthritis, I could barely stand to walk or move around in the classroom,” she said.
Fortunately, Kathleen was under the care of Bruce Smith, MD, a local orthopedic surgeon who had received training in a new procedure called limited knee resurfacing. Kathleen had been a patient of Dr. Smith’s since 2004, when he operated on her right knee after she injured it skiing.

“Limited knee resurfacing involves removing damaged cartilage, a small amount of bone and implanting replacements in only the damaged portion of the knee,” said Dr. Smith, in practice at Wyoming Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Cheyenne.

A total knee replacement is much more invasive and aggressive and isn’t generally recommended for someone as young as Kathleen, who is 51.

“Initially I didn’t really know how much pain there would be or how weak my knee might be after the surgery,” said Kathleen. “My knee swelled but it didn’t really hurt,” she said. “I was doing physical therapy the next morning.”

Although she was advised to use crutches after the surgery, Kathleen admitted that within a few days, she was back on her feet teaching in the classroom.

“Initially there was some swelling and soreness, but the debilitating pain was gone,” she smiled.

Coping with pain

An avid downhill skier, Kathleen had been coping with arthritis-related knee pain for several years. “Until two summers ago, Dr. Smith was able to ease the pain in my left knee with arthroscopic surgery and cortisone shots,” she explained. Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat a variety of conditions, including cleaning out debris caused by osteoarthritis in the knees.

If Kathleen were older, she might have been a good candidate for a total knee replacement, explained Dr. Smith. A total knee replacement lasts for about 15 years and requires major surgery and often months of rehabilitation. Though Kathleen’s left knee was in bad shape, Dr. Smith said that he didn’t want to put her through the ordeal of a total knee replacement since she would likely need to undergo the procedure again given her age.

“Generally we try more conservative treatments for as long as possible in someone who is younger than 60,” said Dr. Smith.

By the summer of 2008, though, the cortisone shots and arthroscopic surgeries were no longer alleviating Kathleen’s pain.

“Bones in my knee were rubbing against each other because the cartilage was worn away,” Kathleen explained. “It was excruciating.”

“This procedure works.”

When Dr. Smith recommended limited knee resurfacing, Kathleen agreed immediately. “I trust him. Dr. Smith is very thorough. I knew if he said he could help, he would.”

Kathleen had the surgery in October of 2008. “I knew right away that my knee was better. I could bend it, and my range of motion came right back,” she said. Kathleen returned to work as a full-time teacher just one week after the surgery.
Now, just over a year later, Kathleen is happy to be pain-free and able to exercise regularly. She walks two or more miles most days.

“Sometimes I see her walking so far from her house that I want to offer to give her a ride back,” said Dr. Smith.

“Both my knees are stiff in the morning because of the arthritis, which will always be there,” Kathleen said. But once she’s been up and moving for a while, the stiffness goes away. And the stabbing pain Kathleen once suffered in her left knee is gone. “I would encourage anyone who has knee pain to see about getting it fixed,” she said. “This procedure works.”