For years, Chris Gilmore had been taking medication to control her knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. With an active lifestyle that included water aerobics several times a week and regular walks with her Goldendoodle rescue, Harry, the 75-year-old didn’t realize her arthritis had gotten so bad that it was causing her to walk bowlegged.
Our team is proud of the individualized care we provide for each patient.
“When my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Basil Alwattar, saw the damage I was doing to my joints from bone rubbing against bone, he recommended surgery to relieve the pain in my knee and improve my quality of life,” Chris says. “I didn’t realize how much pain I was in until I had to stop using my medication in preparation for surgery.”
Just like Chris, many patients with osteoarthritis endure immense pain, and surgery is often their best option for relief. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 4.7 million Americans have undergone total knee replacements and are currently living with implants. There have been major advancements in orthopedic surgical techniques in recent years, specifically in robotic-assisted systems. These newer procedures are less invasive, are more precise and produce much better outcomes.
ABSMC Acquires New Robotic Technology
Staying on the cutting edge of orthopedic surgical care, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center introduced the MAKOplasty robotic system earlier this year. Funded by philanthropy, this state-of-the-art technology enables orthopedic surgeons to create complete 3D surgical modeling plans in advance of procedures. The surgeon-controlled robotic arm then allows for more accurate alignment and placement of implants.
“Patients who see the biggest benefits from robotic surgery are those who have severe arthritis or lots of deformity in their joints,” says Basil Alwattar, M.D. “This new tool improves the accuracy of the placement of the new joint, lessening the need for a larger dissection, which decreases pain and improves rehabilitation.”
Dr. Alwattar has been serving the ABSMC community for 11 years, moving to the East Bay after completing his fellowship in New York City. He has many patients who’ve had one traditional knee replacement and a second procedure using the robot, and the overwhelming majority swears by the superiority of robotic surgery. Dr. Alwattar points out that even with robotic surgery, rehabilitation can still be challenging, but the more-accurate joint placement makes a notable difference in the speed and quality of patients’ recovery.
Dr. Alwattar replaced Chris’s knee using the MAKOplasty system, and she says she sailed through the procedure. Her sister came to help her recuperate, which was really helpful in the first couple of weeks when it was difficult to find a comfortable position. But overall, Chris’s recovery has been remarkably smooth, and she is now pain free.
“Two of my friends who are not Alta Bates Summit patients had knee replacements around the same time, but they didn’t have robotic surgery, and I think that made all the difference,” Chris says. “My recovery has been so much faster and better overall. I was glad to have help, but I also feel very fortunate to have had the robotic-assisted procedure.”
Restoring Movement and Quality of Life
The circumstances that brought a retired University of California, Berkeley astronomy professor to Dr. Alwattar were slightly more complicated. A few months before his surgery, Carl Heiles, Ph.D., was struggling to walk with his dog, Hans, for more than a couple of minutes without becoming debilitated and exhausted by pain. One morning he couldn’t even make it from his bedroom to the kitchen. That’s when he was referred to Dr. Alwattar.
“I have Parkinson’s, which affects my ability to walk normally and in a straight line,” Carl says. “So I didn’t realize that it was my knee impacting my gait, not my Parkinson’s.”
Now, four months after his MAKOplasty surgery, Carl is pain free and his range of motion is essentially normal. He is finally enjoying his morning walks with Hans, unhindered by his knee, and knows he is walking much better than before the operation.
“I’m surprised by how much it has helped me,” Carl says. “At 81, I admit that getting all of my range of motion back felt slow day by day, but looking back over several months, it really is a great improvement.” He was thrilled when his wife exclaimed “you are moving so normally when you walk!”
“Since Carl has Parkinson’s, it was important for me to restore some of his quality of life,” Dr. Alwattar explains. “Our team is proud of the individualized care we provide for each patient. There is no single way to do joint replacements, but we take the time to plan each procedure to produce the most benefit for the patient.”
Grateful for Philanthropy
Chris, who also receives her primary care through Sutter Health, is beyond happy with the network of care—from physical therapists coming to her house in the days after surgery to conveniently located outpatient physical therapy—and is thankful for the generosity of community donors who made robotic surgery possible for her. Chris is currently taking a break before having her other knee replaced. But when she does, she will make sure to choose the MAKOplasty and takes comfort knowing that her recovery should be quite manageable.
Understanding that he is providing a valuable service to his patients, Dr. Alwattar is also grateful that the philanthropy team could help his department secure MAKOplasty. He now has the ability to perform these complicated surgeries, but he acknowledges that generous donors are also responsible for making a difference in people’s lives by bringing this and other top-of-the-line tools to ABSMC. Dr. Alwattar appreciates that, as a community, we can all participate in different ways to help ensure successful outcomes for patients.
Free webinars offering more information about orthopedic surgeries using the MAKOplasty technology are held monthly. Learn more or register for a session.