After undergoing partial knee replacements with Dr. Richard Berger in 2016 and 2018, Shannon Kinzey fulfilled an ambitious, lifelong dream. For almost three months in 2021, logging 50 to 95 miles a day for a total of 3,000 miles, Kinzey biked cross-country from the coast of California to the coast of Florida.
“I’ve wanted to make that trip forever,” Kinzey said. Her only regret? That she didn’t meet Dr. Berger sooner.
Many patients wait longer than they need to for hip or knee replacement surgery, explained Berger. This is often due to fear about the operation or because their surgeons advise putting off the procedure. The rationale for delaying surgery? So that the replacement joint lasts for the rest of a patient’s life, eliminating the need for another surgery.
“They’ve heard horror stories about long recoveries and a joint that’s not functioning well,” Berger said. “They’re afraid of having pain from surgery, which is ironic because they’re enduring more joint pain for longer.”
Kinzey, an Atlanta resident, now 60, started experiencing joint issues in her mid-40s after injuring her left knee playing tennis. Doctors advised her to hold off on surgery. “I was on the young side for a joint replacement,” Kinzey said. “They were worried I would beat a new knee to death and then have to have another one done. Their philosophy was to push it off as long as you can.”
Before she traveled to Chicago for her first partial knee replacement with Dr. Berger, Kinzey said her day-to-day life had become severely limited. “I quit playing tennis. If I had to get something from upstairs, I dreaded it. I felt like I was 80 years old.”
It’s not a unique struggle, according to Dr. Berger. “I treat patients not just in their 80s and 90s but also in their 20s and 30s,” he said. “Why would you be miserable for decades and lose arguably the best part of your life?” He explained that the longer patients wait for surgery, the longer their recovery due to atrophy setting in. “When you wait, the joint gets more and more deformed. For every day of inactivity, it takes about two days of exercise to get your conditioning back.”
Overall, Dr. Berger finds that post-surgery pain is less and recovery is quicker. He credits a minimally invasive technique that doesn’t involve cutting muscles, ligaments and tendons. By avoiding damage to the patient’s soft tissue, Berger can place a new joint into an optimal position that’s unaffected by scar tissue. This allows many of Berger’s patients to leave the hospital the same day.
Just a year after her second surgery in 2018, Kinzey biked across Georgia as preparation for her three-month ride from California to Florida with a team of other dedicated cyclists.
“The ability to set a goal like this after having knee surgery is amazing,” Kinzey said. “Before, everything I wanted to do, I had to do based on my knee. My whole family says I walk faster. I’m more graceful. I can keep up with all of them. I can run up and down the stairs. My world has opened up.”