I’m a product designer, which means I work with the engineers and manufacturing team to make CAD (short for “computer-aided design”) models for knee implants.
Of course, back then, when I was in my early 30s, I didn’t really believe I’d ever need a new knee. I never could have imagined that I’d ultimately undergo a double knee replacement at 48.
How I Ended Up With Such Creaky Knees
I guess you can say I’ve always liked to have fun. I was on the football, basketball and track teams in high school and middle school, and I competed in high jump and long jump events, primarily using my left knee. So even as a teenager, I started to have problems. Then I got into BMX bike racing, as well as Tough Mudder races.
By the time I was in my early 30s, I was still pretty active, but I’d already torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my left knee and had to fix it with surgery. Looking back, that first knee surgery at age 27 was really the beginning of the end. By 37, I had also torn my right ACL, and then in my early 40s, I tore the meniscus (a rubbery, C-shaped disc that cushions your knee joint) in both legs.
After that, my left knee, especially, was bowlegged and gave me a lot of pain. I had a pretty steady limp. But I kept having fun!
Every time I’d start to feel better from one of these injuries, I’d go right back to running a 5k every morning, racing BMX and playing basketball. When things hurt, I just took ibuprofen—my kids called them “Dad’s M&Ms.” And I got cortisone shots every three to six months.
But, eventually, it got to the point where I’d feel good for maybe a day or two after the shots, and that was it. I had so much scar tissue in my left knee that it was hard for the doctor to even inject the cortisone. Things got so bad that I had to stop riding, and I couldn't sleep through the night because of the pain.
That was a wake-up call. All those shots and pain relievers were just treating my symptoms, not the problem. The problem was my knees.
From Product Designer to Patient
My first surgical consultation technically happened during a regularly scheduled work meeting with David Fisher, M.D., of OrthoIndy Hospital in Indianapolis. He was one of the design surgeons on the Attune Cementless Knee System project, so I knew I wanted to get his opinion on whether I should consider surgery.
When I showed him X-rays of my knees that I'd saved on my phone from five years earlier, he took one look and said, “Make an appointment.”
I'd been working on the Attune Knee System—which is designed to function like a real, live joint—since 2006. It originally featured only cemented components. But, eventually, my team had a goal to create a cementless version, which was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2016 and is currently in limited launch in the U.S.
What's unique about the cementless system is that it's designed to optimize initial bonding to the bone without cement, as well as minimize motion between where the bone and implant come together. Over time, the bone grows into the porous surface of the replacement knee, locking the components in place. It's a great option for people who are active and have good bone density.
I was glad that my old knees held out until our cementless knee was ready to go for my double knee replacement surgery on December 15, 2016. I was one of the first people to receive the implants, and I was excited—not only to get new knees, but also to experience how well they performed.
I get to say that I helped design an implant for a knee that let a lady walk her daughter down the aisle at her wedding. I actually get to help change somebody’s life. That’s amazing.
The surgery itself took a little over an hour. Once in recovery, as soon as the nurse came to swap out my ice packs, I lifted my legs. I think she was pretty surprised because I guess most patients don’t lift their legs up unassisted that quickly. But I couldn’t wait to test things out.
I got to stand up for the first time the next morning. As soon as I put my feet on the floor, it felt like everything had found home. I didn't have trouble bearing my weight, and I didn’t feel unstable. I stayed in the hospital for four days, then headed home to continue my recovery, which included regular physical therapy sessions. By Christmas, I was off my walker. Within a few months, I was able to get back to spin class.
New Knees, New Life
Dr. Fisher advised me not to get too crazy until July, and I’ve been following his advice—as much as it kills me. But I am excited to be working out again, and to be back to chasing my 3-year-old grandson around.
Some of the other changes are subtler: I didn’t realize until after the surgery just how much pain I was living with. I don’t feel my knees now, and I could always feel them before. I’m also sleeping better, and my back hurts less, too.
If you had told me in college that I’d end up designing my own knee replacement, I might not have believed you. All through school my plan was to design cars. I did that for eight years, and it was pretty cool to be able to point to a car on the road and say, “I did the accelerator clutch break assembly in that.”
But moving into orthopaedics has been, hands down, the best move I ever made. Now I get to say that I helped design an implant for a knee that let a lady walk her daughter down the aisle at her wedding. I actually get to help change somebody’s life. That’s amazing.
I know how life-changing these devices are because my life has changed, too.
When I took my first few steps, I thought about all the work we did, all the engineers who tested every component in the lab over and over to make sure the knee did exactly what we were looking for it to do.
And I just knew—we got it right.