WATERLOO, Iowa --- Barb Scheel has lived with pain in her left knee for years.
But because of her young age, just 48, doctors were always hesitant to do more than treat the decades-old cartilage injury with anything but medications and injections.
Full knee replacements have a limited lifespan and subsequent operations are more difficult and usually have a less favorable outcome. Partial knee replacements are done on a limited basis, in part, because technology never allowed for precise enough placement of the manufactured pieces to guarantee a good outcome.
Until now, said Dr. Thomas Gorsche, an orthopedic surgeon at Allen Hospital.
In September the hospital purchased the RIO Robotic Arm Interactive Orthopedic System, a computer-controlled device that helps surgeons through the process of a partial knee replacement surgery.
The robot, from the Mako Surgical Corp. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., cost the hospital about $800,000. It is the first in Iowa.
The computer software and robotic arm allow the doctor to size and place the prosthesis in the knee with minimal bone removal, less blood loss and smaller incisions --- which translates into a faster recovery time for patients.
Gorsche said a typical patient might stay overnight in the hospital compared to three days for a total knee replacement. They also are quicker to walk around and resume their daily activities. With the nurse's permission, Scheel was able to walk to the restroom just a couple of hours after surgery.
"Even right after the surgery I could tell the presurgical pain, the ache, was gone," Scheel said. "Then when I was walking to the bathroom I could tell a difference. There was pain because they cut into me, but it wasn't the same kind of pain."
Scheel was even allowed to skip the traditional outpatient physical therapy with a promise to her doctor that she would keep up with the exercises at home. Just one month after her surgery, Scheel has been cleared to walk on a treadmill and ride a stationary bike.
Gorsche said patients who undergo a full knee replacement often end up in a skilled nursing program for rehabilitation because the surgery is so invasive.
Allen surgeons have completed seven Mako surgeries and said Scheel's results seem pretty typical.
Jenni Friedly, the director of surgical services, said she expects the surgeons will complete about four a month in the first year.