“A piece of cake.”

After ten years of knee issues and two previous surgeries, Helen Wheat’s second knee replacement was far easier than she expected. She credits the support of her family, her expert medical team, and something else she hadn’t expected: a robot.

A photo of Helen standing in the middle of her three sons as they all pose for the camera. Her son Robert (left,) is an older white man with short brown hair and a brown beard. He is wearing a multicolor long-sleeve button-up. Her son Darren (middle,) is an older white man with short brown hair. He is wearing a short-sleeve navy polo, and multiple silver earrings. Her son Sean (right,) is an older white man with short curly brown hair. He is wearing a short-sleeve blue polo.
“It’s wonderful to have my sons here,” said Helen. “They help me with so many things.”

“Ten years ago, I fell on vacation in Siesta Keys, the first day of vacation,” said Helen. “My son sent my x-rays back to [UK Orthopaedic trauma surgeon] Dr. Moghadamian. They flew me home and a week later he did this surgery. I had a tibial plateau fracture.”

A candid photo of Helen reaching up and watering a hanging plant with a watering can.
“I keep herbs and flowers and so on,” said Helen. “I like to garden and cook a whole lot.”

Helen was in her 60s then—an active high school teacher who loved to garden and cook. She was happy with the results of the surgery to repair her broken knee, but a few years later, that same knee gave out.

“One day, I started to get up from the chair and I couldn’t move,” said Helen. She consulted with another orthopaedic surgeon who proposed an unpleasant solution. “He was going to remove the bar in the knee and a month later, replace the knee, and leave me without a knee for a month.”

A close-up photo of the scar on Helen’s knee.
“It was time to improve my mobility,” said Helen.

“My son said, ‘Dr. Selby can do that in one surgery.’ Within ten days he had me in the surgery and knee replaced, and I did extremely well with it. I’ve never had a bit of problem with it.”

Helen was so pleased with the results of her first surgery that she elected to have a total replacement on her other knee, returning to Dr. Jeffrey Selby at UK HealthCare’s Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine. “I wasn’t in a great deal of pain, but I could tell it was time,” she said.

A close-up photo of the robotics system that assisted Dr. Selby during Helen’s surgery. It is a black and gray apparatus with a long needle at the end, and blue discs used for gripping and positing that span the distance of the machine.
“We were the first in the region to use robotics,” said Dr. Selby. “Not just the first in the state.”

In the years between Helen’s first and second knee replacement, a new team member joined the orthopaedic department: a robot. More accurately, a robotics computer system that improves surgical precision—assisting Dr. Selby, not replacing him.

“When you hear robotics, you think of a robot with a little face,” said Dr. Selby. “Or you think of maybe a robotic arm performing the entire operation like you see in an assembly plant. It’s not that at all. Robotics refers more to the computer feedback mechanism.”

A photo of Dr. Jeffrey Selby pointing at X-rays on a screen in his operating room. He is an older white man with short gray hair. He is wearing navy scrubs, a white face mask, a salmon-colored hair net, and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses.
“If the accuracy is better, then the [patient’s] soft tissues aren’t as damaged,” said Dr. Selby.

Joint replacements require delicate attention beyond replacing bones. Robotics are capable of meticulous measurements of bone alignment and soft tissue, allowing surgeons to personalize implants for each individual patient. Out of around 600 joint surgeries that Dr. Selby performs each year, approximately 100 currently meet the selection criteria for robotics.

A photo of Dr. Selby standing in the hallway of the hospital as he smiles for the camera.
“Dr. Selby came in to see me before the surgery,” said Helen. “His manner with his patients is so marvelous.”

Dr. Selby feels that robotics technology would have also been helpful for Helen’s first knee replacement. “That was related to a previous fracture and injury, and so that made that one a little bit more complicated. The robotic surgery in my hands has been shown to be even more accurate and more useful in a patient with a previous deformity like hers.”

A photo of Helen’s three sons standing together and smiling for the camera.
Helen’s sons, Robert, Darren and Sean, have been incredibly supportive through both of her surgeries and recoveries.

Helen’s son currently works as the head orthopaedic tech and orthopaedic and podiatry coordinator at Clark Regional Medical Center, a UK HealthCare affiliate. Naturally, he took a special interest in his mother’s experience. “I got to see the [post-surgical] x-rays and the final result,” said Robert. I’ve seen a lot of x-rays in my time. It was probably one of the best that I’ve seen in my 29 years of assisting orthopaedic surgery. I was just blown away.”

A close-up photo of Helen’s hand resting on top of her knee with her scar visible.
“The x-rays of both knees were perfect,” said Helen. “Even without the robot [Dr. Selby] was good.”

After Helen’s second knee replacement, life around the Wheats’ kitchen table quickly returned to normal. Due to COVID-19, surgeries like hers have been conducted as outpatient procedures. “I think the biggest surprise to me was that it was all outpatient and I was home,” said Helen. “I had dinner at six o’clock, after getting home at five o’clock. It was a piece of cake. I was back to cooking in just a few days.”

A candid photo of Helen watering some of the plants in her garden.
“I don’t have pain in either knee now,” said Helen.

Retired now, she’s thrilled to be back in her garden and sharing her fresh veggies with her neighbors. Best of all, she had a do-over on her Florida vacation this year, with no problems getting around. She heartily recommends robotics-assisted joint replacements.

A candid photo of Helen reading the newspaper while sitting out on her back porch.
“Go for it,” said Helen. “Do the knee, the recovery is very short.”

“My experience at UK HealthCare was fantastic for all three of the surgeries,” said Helen. “I really did not experience pain at all, especially with the second [surgery]. My mobility was fantastic with this second knee. I’m not afraid to go places.”

A photo of Helen resting her hand on the railing of her back porch as she looks into the camera and smiles.
“I do really well,” said Helen. “I’m not afraid to go places.”

See how we care for patients like Helen

at UK HealthCare Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine.

Travis Johnson, a young man with an olive complexion and curly brown hair, smiles for the camera while holding a UK bullhorn. He is wearing a blue and white UK male cheerleader uniform.Eli Cox stands in front of the camera with his arms crossed and a determined look on his face. He is a young white man with short brown hair. He is wearing a short-sleeve black t-shirt that reads “Kentucky Football Toughness.”