Natrona Heights native Helene McQuaide has been an athlete most of her life.
She started organized dance when she was four.
She later earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts dance and toured with a professional modern dance company into her mid-20s.
Although her career has changed over the years, she still dances and stays active. But for a time, her encroaching knee pain threatened to take that all away from her.
“My modern dance instructor's choreography style often had us dancers thrusting ourselves onto our knees. That's when I first started hurting my kneecaps," she says. “From my late 30s on, I had frequent knee pain. So around then I started my medical journey to control my pain."
Helene began consulting orthopaedic doctors in the Pittsburgh area.
“I was trying to get a better understanding of what was going on with my knees, and what my future might hold."
Doctors referred Helene to the Bone and Joint Center at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.
“When I walked in, I had a good feeling about the orthopaedic team," she says.
Helene first met with Anthony DiGioia, MD, who referred her to his partner, Brian Hamlin, MD.
Dr. Hamlin is an expert in partial replacement of the kneecaps.
In an effort to avoid needless surgery, he suggested that they first try to manage her pain with medicine. Dr. Hamlin treated Helene's knee with cortisone shots. The shots let her keep up her active lifestyle for more than a decade, returning to weightlifting, spin classes, and Pilates.
But eventually Helene's knee pain returned, so Dr. Hamlin felt they should move forward with surgery to replace both of her kneecaps.
Because of Helene's active lifestyle and good health, she was a potential candidate for the Same-Day Discharge program. This meant she could have surgery and go home just a few hours after.
Leading up to her surgery, Helene had a series of pre-op tests to confirm that she was healthy enough for the program.
Dr. Hamlin told her she could continue to exercise and use leg weights.
“Dr. Hamlin and his team did a great job getting me ready for surgery. They explained their plan and gave me the information and resources to refer to," Helene says. "They even set up in-home care with a UPMC physical therapist the day after surgery."
On the day of her surgery, Helene arrived at UPMC Magee around 5 a.m. An hour and a half later, she had partial knee replacement surgery.
By 3 p.m. that same day, she was ready to go home — just 8 hours after her surgery.
The next day she started in-home physical therapy.
"I felt well-supported by Dr. Hamlin and his whole team. I didn't feel like I needed any hand holding," says Helene. "I got to sleep in my own bed that night. And that really helped since moving around with the new kneecap is so crucial after surgery."
For the first week, Helene walked with crutches. By the second week, she was walking with the help of a cane.
By the fifth week, she was back on her stationary bike and lifting weights with her personal trainer.
"As a dancer, I've always felt good about my legs. So, naturally, I had concerns about the possibility of having scars down the front of my knees," Helene says. "But you can hardly notice the scars, and they're fading more and more every week. I feel like I made the right choice in choosing UPMC and Dr. Hamlin, rather than live with the chronic pain."
Three months after her surgery, Helene came back to the Bone and Joint Center to have her second kneecap replaced.
Note: This patient's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.