Two senior patients living their best lives after orthopedic surgery

July 06, 2023 | by NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

Pictured above (from left to right): Lois Boe and Betty Welk

At NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health, orthopedic surgery can help dramatically increase someone’s quality of life, regardless of their age.

Orthopedic surgery can address issues with the bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves and muscles. Edward-Elmhurst Health is among the top 10 healthcare systems in Illinois for overall orthopedic care.

After undergoing orthopedic surgery and making rapid recoveries, two senior patients have found that their procedures have made it possible to continue living independent, active lifestyles.

Multilevel lumbar surgery

One of these patients, Betty Welk, 84, enjoys walking and gardening. But over the course of several years, she developed severe leg pain to the point where she had difficulty even walking to her mailbox.

Welk tried physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture and steroid injections, but nothing helped. “I got to the point where I couldn’t really do anything,” she says.

Jimmy Zhu, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Edward-Elmhurst Health, found that Welk’s spinal canal in the lumbar spine, or lower back, had significantly narrowed over the years.

“Once that canal becomes narrower, it puts a lot of pressure on the nerves, which can cause significant pain, numbness or weakness,” says Dr. Zhu. He determined that she would be a good candidate for surgery. “I wanted to get her back to her normal life,” he says.

Initially, Welk had a lot of anxiety about the surgery, but she ultimately decided it was her best shot at relieving the pain and getting active again. “At that point, I realized I wasn’t living, I was existing,” she says.

Welk required multilevel lumbar surgery to widen her spine and take pressure off her nerves. The next day, she was able to walk the entire hospital floor without any assisted devices and was discharged the day after surgery.

Welk says that as she continues physical therapy, her quality of life is coming back. “It was so worth it,” she says. “I wish I had agreed to surgery sooner and not suffered in debilitating pain as long as I did.”

Shoulder replacement surgery

The other patient, Lois Boe, 83, enjoys working on her house and garden. Unfortunately, Boe had developed advanced arthritis in both shoulders. “I couldn't really do much,” she explains. “When you’re hurting 24/7, it's time to do something.”

Boe had received steroid injections for both shoulders, but they were not very effective and did not last long. Eventually, she met with Zahab Ahsan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Edward-Elmhurst Health, who determined she was a good candidate for shoulder replacement surgery.

“I have had both knees and both hips replaced, so I knew what to expect,” says Boe. “I knew there might be some pain afterward, but it was going to be better than the pain I was experiencing before.”

Dr. Ahsan replaced Boe’s right shoulder in November 2021 and her left shoulder in January 2023. Boe made a rapid recovery after each surgery and, with physical therapy, has been able to return to many normal day-to-day activities.

“I’m gaining muscle strength back in both arms,” she says. “I’ve found I can do any of the activities I want to do.”

Dr. Ahsan recommends that before pursuing shoulder replacement surgery, patients should exhaust all non-surgical treatments first. “If that is not adequate and your condition is affecting your quality of life, it's a good decision to move forward with surgery,” he says. “It can make a very large impact on a person’s quality of life.”

Patients who undergo shoulder replacement have the potential to go home the same day versus staying overnight and going home the next day. Physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process.

“I don't think people should let their age be a hindrance to getting surgery and trying to get back to their normal activities,” says Dr. Zhu. “When it’s the right surgery on the right patient, people generally recover well and have good outcomes.”

The orthopedic team of experts at Edward-Elmhurst Medical Groups-Orthopedics provides exceptional orthopedic, sports medicine and podiatry services for patients of all ages. We use the least invasive treatments necessary to help you get back to the activities you enjoy, as quickly as possible. Learn more.

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