Knee replacement surgery allows chef to live pain-free

Richard Jones
As an executive chef, Richard Jones routinely worked long hours on his feet.

His right knee always hurt because of an old basketball injury he suffered as a teenager that badly damaged his ligaments, muscles and nerves. He had surgery, but the recovery was long and difficult. It left him with chronic knee pain that he learned to live with.

It wasn’t until 32 years later, in 2019, that the pain became unbearable. Everyday tasks, including work, became a struggle. One particularly bad morning, Jones fought back tears as he dressed his 2-year-old daughter because it hurt so much to stand. Then he drove her to daycare using his left leg on the pedals, since he couldn’t move his right knee or leg.

The Lansing resident made an appointment with University of Chicago Medicine orthopaedic surgeon Sara Wallace, MD, who gave him a cortisone shot to ease the pain temporarily.

“When she looked at my X-rays, she said, ‘I’ll be honest, Richard. I don’t know how you’ve walked around without even taking medication. You must be in excruciating pain,’” he recalled.

Wallace told Jones he needed a full knee replacement. The surgery would be complicated because the nerve damage from his 1987 injury had caused permanent numbness and weakness in his right foot. It also damaged the major artery in his leg, placing him at risk for delayed healing.

Because of his previous joint trauma, he needed a specific type of implant that added knee stability and replaced his multiple damaged ligaments.

During the two-hour surgery in July 2020, Wallace removed the damaged cartilage and scar tissue, resurfaced the joint and used digital templating to precisely measure and position the implants. Using surgical guides and instruments, she added the implants and completely restored his leg’s natural alignment, making it “straight” again and allowing his knee to have a full range of motion.

“Everything went really smoothly,” Wallace said. “Our approach at UChicago Medicine is to be more minimally invasive than many other surgeons. We preserve all functional parts of the knee and replace only what has been damaged.”

The state-of-the-art technology speeds up recovery times, and UChicago Medicine’s accelerated recovery and pain management programs allow patients to walk just hours after coming out of surgery. Many are able to go home the same day, Wallace said.

Within hours of the surgery, Jones got out of bed and walked around the hospital. After a few weeks in physical therapy, Wallace said he was able to do any activity using his knee – no restrictions.

“Before my surgery, I felt like I had a foreign object in my body because there was always so much pain,” Jones said. “When I woke up after the surgery, I knew something was different. It was a good different. I felt good for the first time in a very long time. I had no pain. I felt normal, like nothing was wrong with my knee. Dr. Wallace really did her thing.”

Today, Jones is back to working long days on his feet and doesn’t need any type of pain medicine. He even has feeling on the side of his leg now, which had felt numb for decades.

“He’s done fabulously,” Wallace said. “Now he walks normally and has regained almost all of the motion in his knee.”

The 51-year-old single dad of two daughters lost his executive chef job during the pandemic. Now, he works for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail processing clerk and plans to open his own restaurant soon. With his new knee, he doesn’t worry about having to stand on his feet all day.

“The knee replacement surgery at UChicago Medicine was a great experience. Everyone made me feel at home,” Jones said.
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Sara Wallace, MD

Sara Wallace, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in joint care. Dr. Wallace treats a wide range of common and complex hip and knee conditions, performing surgical procedures to restore mobility and reduce joint pain.

Learn more about Dr. Wallace

Orthopaedic Knee Care

The orthopaedic specialists at the University of Chicago Medicine offer comprehensive non-operative, arthroscopic and joint replacement care for patients with knee injuries and knee pain.

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