How a Nurse Regained Her Active Lifestyle — Thanks to Robotic-Assisted Surgery
After years of pain and decreasing activity, 60-year-old oncology nurse Shelley Cameron finally decided to go ahead with knee replacement surgery — on both knees — at UPMC East. Her only regret: Not doing it sooner.
Shelley Cameron still winces when she thinks about that day 20 years ago when she tried in-line skating for the first — and last — time. A hard fall left her with two banged up knees that eventually developed into severe arthritis.
She and her husband have always been an active couple, taking dance classes, biking, bowling, and walking in the park with their dog. But as her knees became more stiff and painful, Shelley began slowing down. Ballroom dancing was the first activity to go, then biking. She stopped the walks and became a spectator on league bowling nights.
Shelley tried over-the-counter pain medicine, various injections, special exercises, and physical therapy, but nothing helped for long.
“I lost the ability to do any of the activities I enjoyed before,” says Shelley, a New Kensington resident and a UPMC oncology nurse. “The pain was impacting my sleep and my work. I started gaining weight because I wasn’t active. I had to do something.”
A Cutting-Edge Solution
Shelley’s doctor referred her to Michael O’Malley, MD, a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in hip and knee replacement surgery. In early 2020, he began using the Mako SmartRobotics™ system for joint replacement procedures at UPMC East. The system also was recently added at UPMC Passavant.
She and Dr. O’Malley discussed her options. Because the pain in her left knee affected only one of three compartments in the joint, Dr. O’Malley recommended a partial knee replacement, which meant only the damaged part needed to be replaced. But her right knee needed a total replacement.
Shelley quickly embraced the idea of having robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery. “I thought it was really cool. I felt very optimistic about it because I knew there have been tremendous advancements in orthopaedic surgery,” she says.
Dr. O’Malley says the advanced robotic technology allows him to perform very precise partial and total knee replacements. Using CT scans and 3D modeling, the system lets him create a personalized surgical plan before operating. The model then helps him guide the robotic arm during surgery.
“As a surgeon, this system gives me more control in the operating room,” says Dr. O’Malley. “It allows me to be more accurate and precise in terms of where I put the implant and gives me more ability to fine-tune the knee and soft tissue balance.”
The Road to Recovery
For most patients, the precision of advanced robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery means a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery with less pain. That appealed to Shelley, especially since she made the unusual decision to have surgery on both knees at the same time.
“Once the decision was made to do it, I was full speed ahead. I just wanted to get it done,” she says.
Dr. O’Malley performed the two procedures at UPMC East in August 2020. Within hours, Shelley was up and walking on her new joints. She immediately began at-home physical therapy and walked outside on the first visit. She quickly progressed to walking loops around her neighborhood and began riding a stationary bike at therapy.
“I hadn’t been on a bike in years and I loved it!” says Shelley, who looks forward to biking outside when the weather warms up. She’s also thrilled to be bowling again and walking at the park. She’s lost almost 15 pounds.
“My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner,” adds Shelley. “I feel like a new person and I’m no longer in pain.
“I would have been satisfied just to have pain relief. But I also got my life back. To be active again is a gift and I couldn’t be happier.”
Shelley’s treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.