I have Ankylosing Spondylitis, AS in simple terms: an inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and large joints. In short, I have inflammation that causes joint fusions if left untreated.
I spent a good portion of my teens and 20’s untreated and improperly diagnosed. As a result, a lot of my joints have fusions. My elbow had already been operated so on deck were my knees. At the age of 29, I was facing a total knee replacement. Despite having a love affair with my home in San Diego, it was recommended by my local rheumatologist that I should visit Hospital for Special Surgery if I had a chance to save my natural knees.
I googled “Hospital for Special Surgery” and looked at every doctor featured on the website. All were so unique and had great backgrounds, reviews, and philosophies. Since I had already bought one expensive new elbow earlier in the year, I could get two knees free (who doesn’t love a good BOGO?!) if I had a surgery before January 1st. I called the referral line and they gave me a few names, but Dr. Michael Cross had an opening to see me.
You can tell a lot about the care you are going to get based on how the front office treats you. Lauren and Selina made me feel so welcome. I explained that I was coming from San Diego and needed to get in ASAP. They not only booked my appointment but also saved me a surgery date. December 26th, 2014. Merry Christmas to ME!
I packed up my life in San Diego and headed back to the East Coast where I am originally from. My mom and I traveled from Reading, PA to the Big Apple to the hospital for my first round of appointments. All of the appointments for x-rays, blood work, etc. were all ON TIME. I don’t think I waited longer than a few minutes. At the end of the day I met Dr. Cross and was immediately relieved. He’s not your typical orthopedic surgeon. Before meeting him I could tell he reviewed my case thoroughly, asked me about my history and answered all my questions. After a few minutes, he gave me the verdict: Brand New Knees! Despite being very scared because at 29 this is very uncommon, he made me feel like it was no big deal and I would be up and running in no time.
Surgery and recovery went great. I went to a rehab center for a few more days and then headed back to Reading, PA to continue rehab. After 3 months, I was cleared to go back to San Diego. I was doing things I hadn’t done in a long time (or ever!) – walking with friends, biking on the beach, up and down stairs one foot in front of the other. Oh, and I could wear heels!
Here I am now 10 months out, and my journey is unfortunately not over. Despite having an excellent recovery and doing everything to the letter with therapy, my AS, residual joint damage and misalignment in other places has set me back.
My left knee started hurting and within six weeks it went from hurting a little to I could barely walk. I again searched for orthopedic care in San Diego, and came up short. So here I am again…and I am not even in the slightest bit upset. Despite having to pack up again and head back to the frigid temps of NYC for the winter, I know I am making the right decision for myself. HSS, Dr. Cross, Wai and John (my Physical Therapists) are my only shot of getting #backinthegame.
I’m going to be documenting my process when I come in November because I want to help other people in my situation, so stay tuned!
October 6, 2017
This story is part TWO, and THREE of an almost three-year corrective surgery saga that I can finally say is O-V-E-R! I can say that because of the incredible team at Hospital for Special Surgery!!
I won't bore you with the medical details of my condition, but in summary - I have Ankylosing Spondylitis which is an inflammatory disease that causes my joints to fuse together if my inflammation treated. After being misdiagnosed for 10+ years, I had to have my knees replaced at age 29 - (at HSS of course)
I thought I was smooth sailing after my original bilateral replacements. I moved back to sunny San Diego but within a few months my left leg started to hurt, and I fell back into my pre-surgery walking pattern.
The tissues in my knee started to pinch between my implant, and physical therapy wasn't helping my leg get straight, Dr. Haas decided it was time for a revision.
Dr. Haas is one of the most incredible humans I've ever met. His attention to detail and "mad scientist" approach to figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it, was something I've never experienced in my 12+ years dealing with the medical profession. His professionalism paired with a humorous bedside manner made me feel I was in the best hands possible. His PAs Kristin and Victoria took the extra time to call me several times to make sure I was on the right path to healing.
Thanks to them, I am now a proud owner of a straight bionic knee!
I wish my story ended at a bionic knee, but when you buy three knees - you get an ankle free! (Just kidding -- I paid)
As I mentioned above, I had a strange walking pattern before my surgery journey. As a result, my Achilles shortened and I had formed bone spurs in my ankle. To keep my pretty new straight leg, straight - I had to have those issues fixed.
I was apprehensive about this surgery because I was finally just getting my life back on track after my replacements. When I met Dr. Ellis and Stephen, I had a mission to convince them I didn’t need it because I was finally getting my life back on track. They took extra time with me to explain the complexity of my case simply and straightforwardly. Dr. Ellis also decided to scope my ankle to minimize my recovery, which was more complicated for HIM but more comfortable for me. Stephen was available (even on vacation) to help me with prescription refills, questions, and overall reassurance. I couldn’t have asked for a better process.
While surgeons are instrumental in getting you back in the game, the MVPs are the therapists. I have seen Wai since I started this journey and I couldn't have asked for a better person (and therapist) to walk this path with me. He has a rare talent for spotting misalignments and pain points in about a few seconds. He has incredible "out of the box" techniques (tape and a plunger!) that can fix what ails you in minutes - whereas other therapists (and I've seen many) would take WEEKS. John, Randy, and Brian also played a huge role in my recovery as well. I also can’t forget to shout out the assistance Dosay and Greg.
After two years, five procedures and many, many appointments, therapy sessions, testing, etc. I would say I’m a “professional” patient at HSS. While I made a full recovery, I am sad I don’t get to see everyone every day. Every single person from the greeters at the door to the phlebotomists, x-ray techs, surgeons and therapists all have made me feel “home.” When you are going through one of the most challenging times in your life, there’s no better feeling than being surrounded by a family.