Three months after knee replacement surgery, 77-year-old woman resumes hiking

Knee replacement

Patients in their 70s often take a little longer to recover from joint replacement surgery, but not Jil Coolidge.

The artist-adventurer, 77, underwent knee replacement surgery at University of Chicago Medicine in late January 2023. By April, Coolidge was hiking in the mountains near her home in Silicon Valley, California.

Not long after, she resumed more intensive hobbies: mountaineering, biking, water skiing and snow skiing.

Several factors led to her quick recovery, said Coolidge’s UChicago Medicine orthopaedic surgeon, Sara Shippee Wallace, MD, MPH.

First, Coolidge was in excellent health and very active before her surgery. That plays a big role in recovery, Wallace said.

Also, Coolidge scheduled her knee replacement surgery preemptively before the pain became debilitating. She also chose UChicago Medicine, which provides some of the most innovative technology available for knee replacements.

“Often, when a patient has problems with their knee for a long period of time, it’s hard for them to get back to various exercises they did, say, 10 years ago,” Wallace said. “But Jil was able to make an unusually fast recovery.”

‘OK, it’s time’

Jil Coolidge hiking
Because she is so active, Jil Coolidge, 77, pictured here mountaineering in 2013, made a faster-than-normal recovery from her knee replacement surgery at UChicago Medicine.

About 10 years ago, shortly after she summitted Mount Whitney, California’s highest mountain, Coolidge noticed her right knee hurt while trekking downhill on her regular 4- to 10-mile hikes.

Her doctor gave her an occasional cortisone shot to ease the pain, but the relief was temporary. Between the wear and tear she’d put on her knee over the years, and the arthritis in her knee joint, Coolidge knew she’d eventually need knee replacement surgery. The arthritis caused a loss of cartilage on her knee, creating joint pain and dysfunction.

“When it really started to become painful, I said, ‘OK, it’s time,’” Coolidge said. “I thought, I’ve gone and shown myself what I’m capable of. Now I need to find a way to continue to do a lot of these things I love.

“I’d invariably end up, toward the end of the day, saying, ‘I don’t like living this way, with all this pain. I want to live the way I used to live.’”

Coolidge interviewed five orthopaedic surgeons around the country, including Wallace, who was recommended by her son-in-law, Ross Coolidge, DO, a physician at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. Wallace is married to Ross’s medical school roommate.

Coolidge preferred

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