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Back to School…With Two New Knees

Busy Principal Is Back in Action

School Principal Tonya Forbes has to keep up.

The 56-year-old administrator at Holy Angels Catholic School, Aurora, Illinois, oversees hundreds of students every day in a busy two-story building on the city’s west side. But after nine years of fighting degenerating knees, she knew she needed help. She could hardly stand, let alone mingle and relate with busy students, ranging in age from preschool through eighth grade.

“I got to the point where I couldn’t put it off any longer,” says Tonya. “I could barely walk. By the end of the day, I would be in tears.”

The first step was a partial knee replacement of Tonya’ 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.

Tonya received care from William R. Sterba, MD, orthopaedic surgeon for Northwestern Medicine Orthopaedics, who deployed a high-tech robotic system called MakoTM 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 longevity of the implant and prevent damage to healthy areas.”

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

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

“It’s the simple things you take for granted, such as just getting up off the floor or getting out of a bathtub,” says Tonya. “I forgot how wonderful it is to take a stroll around the block with my children.”

Tonya expects her new knees to last a long time, and Dr. Sterba agrees that is the ultimate goal.

“With the Mako system, we can make adjustments within a tenth of a millimeter,” he explains. “With that extraordinary accuracy, we expect improved outcomes for patients.”