“My knees have to be fantastic”
“I went to Belize with my sister for my 60th birthday. I’ve always wanted to climb those Mayan ruins. I got to the top and thought, ‘It’s going to take me a while to get down.’ I vowed that the minute I got home, I’d be seeing Dr. O’Donnell.”
For Suzanne Springate, that moment at the top of a Mayan pyramid was when she finally accepted the truth: she needed a new knee. A nurse at UK HealthCare for more than three decades, Suzanne had done her best to hide her knee issues, worrying that it would be seen as a sign of weakness in a profession where she’d always been strong. “I had this wonderful job, Director of Children’s Services, and I didn’t want anyone to think I couldn’t do it because of my knees.”
But when her knees became too painful to ignore, she approached Dr. Patrick O’Donnell, an orthopedic surgeon at UK HealthCare Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine, who she knew through his work on pediatric sarcoma patients at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. In June of 2016, after years of helping Suzanne manage her pain through injections and physical therapy, Dr. O’Donnell replaced both of Suzanne’s knees.
“I thought you had to wait until you were 70 or 80 because they only lasted ten years, but Dr. O’Donnell said, ‘Oh no, they last. And anyway, do you want to have this quality of life for the next ten years?’”
After two surgeries, four weeks apart, “it was a huge difference,” Suzanne said. “I was strolling my grandson around the block three weeks after the first surgery. Before, I was really cautious about carrying him up and down stairs. I was afraid my knee would give out. Now, I can do anything with him and his brother. I can carry them both up and down the stairs without worrying.”
When she’s not playing with her grandsons, Suzanne is an avid gardener—another activity she could barely do before her knee replacements. “I would do half a day’s work and I’d have to stop for a week or two. I used to have to have these little knee pad things, and I could barely get up. Now, I can haul mulch, prune the roses, even move bushes around.”
Suzanne’s new knees allowed her to finish her impressive 38-year career pain-free, and she’s now living actively and independently in retirement. She walks four miles a day with her dog, rides her bike, and handles all her own housework. But for her, the biggest impact of her surgeries is the memories she’s able to create with her grandchildren.
“They live in Chicago, and when I come, they expect it to be fantastic. So my knees have to be fantastic, because we play, we go to the zoo, and we do all sorts of things. I never ever think I’m going to lose them, because I can keep up with them. It’s wonderful.”