Retired Pharmacist Rides “Wave of the Future” with Robotic-Assisted Knee Surgery
After 50 years standing on his feet as a pharmacist, Michael Ducko, 70, knew it was time to replace his aching knee. A big believer in science and technology, he was thrilled to learn his surgeon offered robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery at UPMC East. “It’s the wave of the future,” he says.
Michael Ducko remembers the day he hurt his right knee playing basketball as a pharmacy student at Duquesne University. He never saw a doctor, but periodic swelling and pain continued to nag him over the years — worsened by long hours spent standing as a pharmacist, mainly at UPMC Shadyside and more recently at a community pharmacy until his retirement last year.
In 2019, Michael fell from a ladder. Tests revealed old scarring, recent tears, and arthritis in the knee. Despite having fluid drained and getting steroid injections, the swelling and pain returned. The avid golfer and trout fisherman found it increasingly difficult to get around.
“I started hobbling more. I got to the point where I couldn’t walk more than a block and I had trouble walking up and down the stairs,” says Michael, a Delmont resident. “I decided I had to do something. I couldn’t put it off anymore.”
A High-Tech Approach
As his knee grew more painful, Michael took to the internet to research knee replacement procedures and techniques. He was already familiar with robotic-assisted knee surgery when his doctor referred him to UPMC orthopaedic surgeon Michael O’Malley, MD.
Dr. O’Malley, a specialist in hip and knee replacement surgery, was just starting to offer joint replacement procedures at UPMC East using the Mako SmartRobotics™ system. The system also was recently added at UPMC Passavant.
“I was really excited to hear that Dr. O’Malley was doing robotic surgery. I knew it was the up-and-coming thing to do and the outcomes were very positive,” says Michael.
Dr. O’Malley recommended a total knee replacement. He explained to Michael that he would use the system’s 3D modeling and CT scans to create a personalized surgical plan before operating. During surgery, the model would be used to help guide the robotic arm.
“The robotic system allows me to be more accurate and precise. It gives me more ability to fine-tune the knee and soft tissue balance,” says Dr. O’Malley. “That precision during surgery ensures the implant is placed in the exact proper position. That means patients have a faster recovery with less pain.”
Life Changing Surgery
Michael couldn’t wait to have his surgery. “I’m not getting any younger,” he says. “I was eager to get my life back.”
In May 2020 at UPMC East, Dr. O’Malley used the Mako system to replace Michael’s right knee. Within hours, he was up and moving around on the new joint. He started physical therapy the next day.
“I worked really hard at physical therapy and doing my exercises at home. And it paid off,” says Michael. “I’m so much better off now — physically and mentally. I no longer have pain and I can get around better than ever.”
Within a few months after surgery, Michael was back on the golf course with his buddies. He now enjoys working in the yard and running around outside playing with his grandchildren. He’s looking forward to the opening day of trout season and being able to navigate the rocky terrain.
“I have no qualms about doing anything. I have so much more mobility and I can even do deep knee bends!” says Michael.
“It changed my life for the better. It was a very good experience and I’m reaping the rewards every day.”
Note: Michael’s treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.