As a high school and college cheerleader, knee drops on a hard gym floor were an unfortunate part of the routine. Who would think that this kind of activity would cause knee damage that would burden someone 40 years later? By age 54, Gina Poteet’s knees were so painful that even walking while teaching in her classroom had become a sore subject.

As a middle school teacher and mother of six grown children, Gina enjoyed being a role model for a physically active lifestyle – before pain limitations set in.

“It got to the point where I had to sit on a stool to lecture in class. At home, I couldn’t stand at the sink to make dinner. I couldn’t sit at the table for long before having to lie down on the couch. That’s when,” says Gina, “I had my epiphany that I needed joint replacement.”

Degrees of Relief

Over the past ten years, physical therapy, arthroscopic procedures on both knees and injections were all part of a long list of procedures in her search for relief. “The pain persisted, and by the time I had the last injection, I knew it was time to consider a more permanent option,” says Gina.

“I tried to avoid joint replacement surgery. But as the pain intensified and my doctor showed me my bone-on-bone X-rays, I knew it was the only way I would be able to live well and give my students my best.”

Doing Her Homework

Gina spoke with a neighbor as well as her school’s former principal, each of whom raved about results from their knee replacement procedures. In both cases, Larry Gersten, MD, a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Saddleback Medical Center who specializes in hip and knee replacements, performed the procedures. “It seemed to me like these encounters happened for a reason,” says Gina, who soon scheduled her own knee replacement.

Patients and their families attend educational classes prior to surgery to help them understand what to expect at the Joint Replacement Center and foster the best possible outcome.

“The preoperative class at Saddleback Medical Center was very informative and helpful,” she says. “The instructor emphasized the importance of exercise before surgery, and how to be prepared upon the return home. Just like preparing for an exam, I made sure to do the daily strength exercises prior to surgery.”

Experience is the Best Teacher

The morning Gina awoke after surgery, she was relieved it was over, and pleasantly surprised that her pain was so minimal.

“I was walking short distances by the afternoon,” she says. “To me, it was amazing to have a new part in my leg and to already be up and moving around.”

Gina returned home a couple of days later and soon began physical therapy. “At eight weeks, I felt incredible and ready to get back to life,” she says. “But Dr. Gersten forewarned me that I would start having more pain in my other knee and that he would recommend a second surgery at some point in the future.”

Less than two months after her June procedure, Gina joined her family on a vacation to Sedona, AZ. Gina’s oldest son was going to propose to his girlfriend during a hike at the top of a famous landmark called Cathedral Rock. “During our trip, I was able to join my family on a few hikes, but the hike to Cathedral Rock proved to be too much for me and I missed my son’s big moment,” says Gina. “Missing his proposal brought a different kind of pain.”

With Dr. Gersten by her side and a great experience behind her, Gina was fearlessly ready to have the other knee replaced. She was more motivated than ever. “I’m a go-getter, so I worked and prepared very hard to get in shape to have my second knee done,” she says. “I was doing so well with the first one that I didn’t want to wait.”

Within six months, over the school’s holiday break, Gina had her second knee replacement. “This time I knew the ropes,” says Gina. “I had wonderful care again, first in the hospital, then with home health physical therapists for a few weeks, followed by outpatient physical therapy. The therapists worked with me on bending and strengthening my muscles, and getting my knee to a 120-degree bend. My flexibility was dramatically improved. I was able to perform exercises like squats, something I could not do prior to surgery.”

A Leg Up on Life

“This year our family is going back to Sedona, and I’m climbing Cathedral Rock,” she says.

Gina adds, “It was hard to walk away from the classroom for five weeks [for surgery and recovery], but it was so worth it. I feel I’m a better teacher now, on my feet, helping and checking on the kids more. I even danced in a talent show at our school, which is something I could not have done before. My students gave me an A for my performance!”

If painful joints are slowing you down, find out more about the award-winning orthopedic care at the MemorialCare Joint Replacement Center at Saddleback Medical Center.

Gina adds, “I would tell anyone who has arthritic knees not to hesitate to go to Saddleback Medical Center for knee replacement – just get it done. I’m so glad I can keep up with an active life, without pain. I’m back!”