The pain just would not go away for Blue Springs resident Christy Delgado.
She started having trouble with her knees in 2010 and despite cortisone injections and arthroscopic procedures, she was in constant pain and it was hard for her to be on her feet for 8 hours a day at her job as a pharmacy technician.
Even worse for her, she wasn’t able to spend time with her grandchildren, doing things like going to the zoo or World of Fun.
“I couldn’t walk through a grocery store without being in excruciating pain,” Delgado said. “I was in a lot of pain for four years.”
Things have changed since then. In 2014, she decided to get surgery on both of her knees simultaneously through a specialist, Dr. Gregory Ballard, M.D., who practices at Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence and in Lee’s Summit. She received bilateral customized total knee implants using 3D models of her knees.
A company called ConforMIS introduced the new technology to Ballard two years ago and he’s been using it ever since, and Delgado is one of the first patients he had try the new style of knee implants. And she’s now able to do activities with her grandchildren and run without problems because of it.
Before there were number of ways to determine what kind of implant a patient needed. Intramedullary rods were used for the tibia and femur to determine the alignment and implant size.
“The implants used to be sizes based on a number like a size 4 or a size five and you would round up or round down based on the size of the knee of the patient,” Ballard said.
ConforMIS is the only company to have every component customized to each patient’s unique anatomy. It starts with the doctor taking a CT scan of the patient’s knee. It then generates a 3D model which is sent to technicians at ConforMIS and they construct the implant based on the exact size and shape of the knee. Then when the doctor received the implant, a 60-75 minute standard procedure would be performed.
“They use complex instrumentation to mold and shape the implants which would be metal in this case to fit that patient,” Ballard said. “On the femur side, it will fit what is called the J-curves. That is the curvature that is on the patient’s femur, so it helps you re-create the implant based on the patient’s total anatomy.”
These new implants are also thinner than the “off-the-shelf” implants that were pre-made before having any knowledge of the patient’s knee. That allowed for less bone from the knee having to be removed.
Ballard says the consensus among his patients is the ConforMIs knee implants and the 3D imaging have proven to cut down the rehab time by an average of two to four weeks and that the new knees end up feeling more natural than the implants that were used before.
“They report that (the) knee moves and feels more like a normal knee, with a greater range of motion and stability,” he said. “We’re trying to make the knee feel as normal as possible. Taking away less bone can improve recovery. When you are taking away less bone, it’s a less traumatic surgery.
“We got some positive feedback on this. People were able to return to their regular activities with less pain and with knees that felt more normal to them.”
It wasn’t that way for the first year for Delgado, but she eventually got used to it.
“I told (Ballard) that it felt like I had tortoise shells covering my knees,” she said.
After surgery, she was walking the same day and was in the hospital for three days before she stayed in a rehab facility for a week. Then after 10 days, she was walking up and down stairs.
“Everybody I encountered couldn’t believe how well I was doing,” she said. “I was told that I was two to three weeks ahead of schedule from where I should have been.”
Now, she’s going out with her grandchildren with no problems. The feeling of tortoise shells over her knees is gone. She feels like normal.
“They absolutely feel like part of me now,” Delgado said. “I can run now and I have full mobility with them. I can go to the zoo and Worlds of Fun with my grandkids which is the reason I did this because I was missing out on them growing up. I feel like I got my life back again.”