School Principal On The Go With MAKO

Northwestern Medicine
Orthopaedics September 20, 2018

Some educators may cringe when assigned recess duty, but not school Principal Tonya Forbes. After years of being cooped up in her office due to debilitating knee pain, Forbes is thrilled to back on the playground at Holy Angels Catholic School in Aurora, Ill.

The 56-year-old administrator oversees hundreds of students every day in a busy two-story building on the city's west side. But after nine years of fighting degenerative knees, she knew she needed help. 

"I got to the point where I couldn't put it off any longer," said Forbes. "I could barely walk. By the end of the day, I would be in tears." 

The first step was a partial knee replacement of Forbes' left knee. A partial knee replacement selectively targets only the damaged parts of the knee and preserves the healthy bone and ligaments surrounding it. Because less tissue is removed, patients may have a quicker recovery.

Forbes received care from William R. Sterba, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, who deployed a high-tech robotic system called Mako™ Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery.

The system allows the surgeon to image the knee with a CT scan, develop a 3D virtual model and then load the model into the system to create a personalized pre-operative plan. The surgeon then guides the robotic arm during surgery to execute the plan, improving joint alignment and creating a custom-fit implant.

"With this technology, we can execute the surgery exactly as planned, ensuring more accurate placement and alignment of the implant," says Dr. Sterba. "By balancing the knee properly, we can improve the longevity of the implant and prevent damage to healthy areas."

Forbes returned home the same day of surgery and immediately begin physical therapy. Within two weeks, she had regained the same 120 degrees of motion that typically takes patients eight weeks or longer to achieve.

Northwestern Medicine Delnor's Hospital MAKO program recently celebrated a milestone. Since launching in November 2016, the team has completed 50 surgeries. Forbes had two of them.

Six months after surgery on her left knee, Forbes underwent a total knee replacement for the troublesome right knee. The results have given Forbes a new level of gratitude for the wonders of human mobility.

"It's the simple things you take for granted, such a just getting up off the floor or getting out of a bathtub," said Forbes. "I forgot how wonderful it is to take a stroll around the block with my daughters." 

With two active children, Forbes needs her new knees to last a long time. Dr. Sterba agrees that is the ultimate goal.

"With the Mako system, we can make adjustments within a tenth of a millimeter," said Dr. Sterba. "With that extraordinary accuracy, we expect improved outcomes for patients." 

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