Bilateral Knee Replacement Recovery with PortableConnect

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Toree: Hello, hello, and I am Toree McGee.  Welcome to The Rapid Recovery Report, sponsored by or brought to you by ROMTech, the technology of rehabilitation.  

So, if you guys have been following along, we’ve been doing one of these every Thursday at 4:00pam Pacific, 7:00pm Eastern, where we kind of talk to a whole mess of people, so sometimes it’s a surgeon, sometimes it’s a ROMTech employee.  And today, I’m really excited.  We’ve got actually one of our very first patients that’s going to be here talking with us today.  

But before we get that started, we are going to be talking about our flagship product, which is the ROMTech PortableConnect.  I’m going to show it to you right there on the screen.  Isn’t she a beaut?  She’s pretty cool.  So, what this particular device is, it’s called the PortableConnect.  Sometimes, we refer to it as the PC, just to kind of keep you up to date here.  So, it’s a high-tech recovery device that’s geared to get patients moving faster post-surgery or injury.  

Anesthesiologist, Dr. Darren Biehler

And today, we’ve got Dr. Darren Biehler, who is an anesthesiologist with Lake Norman Anesthesia Associates in North Carolina.  And he’s been there for the last 27 years.  So now, after completing North Carolina, he completed his residency at the University of NC Hospitals.  And he’s been a competitive athlete for most of his life, performing as a sprinter, and a national competitor in powerlifting in the Olympic, and Olympic weightlifting, triathlons, a former CrossFit competitor.  And after years of competitive athletics, it took a toll on his knees, requiring a bilateral knee replacement to help him get back to his now active coaching life.  So, I’m going to bring him on here.

We are so excited to have you.  

Dr. Biehler: It’s good to be here.

Toree: All right, well, let’s kind of get right into it.  So, tell me a little bit more about yourself.  I know that you’re from North Carolina, and I heard you do a little bit of coaching, so did you want to give a shoutout to your team?

Dr. Biehler: Yeah, I’m the head track and field coach at Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina, and we just finished our season this past Saturday at the State Championships.  Had a state champion 200-meter runner, female on our team.  And we play sport overall in the sate as a team, so we’re pretty pleased with where the season went. 

Toree: Awesome, girl power.  That’s fabulous. 

Dr. Biehler: Yeah, girls team is even stronger than the boys team. 

Toree: I mean, I’m biased, but I like to hear that kind of thing.  Now, have you always had an active life?  Like, did you play sports a lot from a young age?

Dr. Biehler: I don’t remember not playing sports from as young as I can remember.  I mean, as a kid, all I did was run and jump that led to track.  I did that through college, medical school.  I competed in Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting.  Then I get into triathlons, even though I was just a sprint-type athlete, it was still fun doing that.  Then I get into CrossFit for a number of years, and even coached that for a while.  So, it’s just over and over abuse of my knees through the years.

I thought of this when you’re doing the intro, I should have brought an X-ray of my knees preoperatively to show how bad they were.  It was a mess.

High Impact Knee Stress

Toree: I know.  I mean, everything that you’ve been doing seems very high impact, life powerlifting sounds really scary.

Dr. Biehler: Yeah.  Actually, powerlifting is not that high impact.  Olympic liftings is, because it’s a more explosive movement.  But it was just track and field, I was a decathlete and a sprinter, so I was training for 10 different events.  I think that probably got them started, the wrong path from the very beginning, so just a lot of years.  And I waited way too long to get them replaced. 

Toree: Wow, that’s a lot.  You do a lot better than me.  The best I do is really ride my Peloton, and I’m terrible at doing that. 

Dr. Biehler: Wow, it’s great to do anything. 

Knee Damage Effects

Toree: Try to.  So now, prior to knee surgery, in what ways did your knees impact your life? I know you said that it took you a minute to kind of get that going, and waited a little bit long.  So, how did it impact you?

Dr. Biehler: Well, I mean, I got do the point, where I was having trouble doing anything.  I mean, if I sat for any period of time, my knees would stiffen up, and when I stand up, I couldn’t walk for a little bit.  

One of the major things was I lost so much range of motion that I couldn’t step over things.  I would misjudge.  I would think, oh, yeah, that’s very low, I can step over that.  I catch my toe on, and there were times when I fell on my face.  It was kind of embarrassing.  

Toree: Wow, gosh. 

Dr. Biehler: It had a major impact on my lifestyle. 

Bilateral Knee Surgery

Toree: Yeah, I guess so.  So now, when we heard that you opted for a bilateral surgery, we were really intrigued, as this a really really hard surgery to recover from.  And for those that maybe don’t know, that’s when both knees are done.  Now, what led you to choose that surgery to have like both knees done?

Dr. Biehler: Well, the main driving factor was I didn’t want two recovery periods.  I just don’t have time in my life to spend three months recovering from two different surgeries, so six months total.  I want to get back.  There’s not a time.  Really the fall and actually COVID helped me out, because it cancelled football season.  I’ve got University of North Carolina season football ticket.  I would have hated to miss those games.  So, there was no football, so I said, “Well, let’s get both knees done, and get it out of the way, get ready for track season.”

Toree: Yeah.  I mean, you’re my kind of guy.  Like, no, let’s just get it done, all at once, and have it over and done. 

Dr. Biehler: I did overestimate my ability to handle it though.  It’s a big surgery, it is, to have both of them done.  

Toree: Yeah, one of the doctors that we spoke to, I think it last week we talked to, who mentioned some of his people, especially athletes, so you would fall right into that category, a lot of them were like, oh, no, it would be fine, like I’ll be totally fine, and I’ll be up and running pretty easy because I’m in good shape.  And he’s like, no, no, it’s a really big surgery. 

So, did your doctor kind of tell you, ah, it’s a huge thing, or did you not really realize how big it was until after it was done?

Dr. Biehler: I didn’t realize until after it was done, because I had a number of surgeries, rotator cuff repair, appendix, knee scope, stuff like that, and I always bounce back very quickly.  I have a whole new respect for not just the surgery itself, but the anesthesia, which I put people to sleep, and then I’m done with them that day, I don’t see the follow-up.  It took a long time for me to get back to normal.

I hope I’m not scaring people off of knee surgery, because if you need it, get it done.  But I didn’t have a real appetite for about six weeks.  It took a long time to feel back to normal.  

I took a lot of naps, because your body is healing up.  You don’t realize how much energy it takes to heal up.  I was having to drink boost calorie drinks to get some calories, because I was losing weight so much.  Of course, it’s kind of nice to lose a little bit of weight.  Maybe not that way.

Toree: Right.  The healthy way is good.  And we’ve kind of talked about that before, it’s like the less weight that you have on your joints, the better, but you want to be taking in calories, and still being healthy enough and have enough energy to be able to heal properly.

Dr. Biehler: Yeah.

Finding PortableConnect

Toree: We mentioned that you’re an anesthesiologist that worked alongside your surgeon, and you chose him specifically to do your surgery.  So, you were the one that actually mentioned using the PortableConnect, right?

Dr. Biehler: Correct.  He is part of a very large orthopedic group in the Charlotte area.  I should have looked this stuff ahead of time.  There’s some people within that group that used the PortableConnect.  My surgeon was not aware of it, so when I brought the information to him, he was intrigued.  He said, “Yeah, it sounds like a pretty cool thing, let’s give it a try.”  So, there we went.  

Toree: I mean, that’s pretty cool.  So, did you hear about it then from one of the other surgeons within the organization where you work?

Dr. Biehler: When you guys are asking about that before, I can’t remember where I first saw it.  I just read about in literature or something, and it sounded great to me, because like I said, you’re not active immediately after the surgery normally, and that would have bothered me.  I wanted to do some where I started moving quickly.  

Toree: Sure.  Now, I know your surgeon said, “Yeah, let’s give it a try.”  I mean, did he have any other kind of reaction?  Was he excited to kind of see how it would work with you?  

Dr. Biehler: You have to know this guy.  He doesn’t show a lot of emotion.  He was just like, okay, we’ll try it.  He trusted me.

Toree: Okay.  Well, that’s good.  Now, what made you think that this was the best option for your recovery, aside form like you had mentioned, just moving right away?

Dr. Biehler: Like I said, just reading about it and some of the results you guys had already have.  And I’ve used a stationary bicycle as an exercise device, amongst many other things in the past.  That sounded like something that I would be able to do pretty quickly.  I watched videos, and people using that.  That’s great.  I set it up in my basement with my big-screen TV and everything, we’re good to go. 

Dr. Biehler’s PortableConnect Pilot Patient Experience

Toree: Yeah, there could be worse setups, I guess, to have for recovering up your knee.  All right, so now, as one of our very first pilot patients – so, for those of you that don’t know, this was one of our very first patients on the device.  So, as one of the first, can you share your experience, I guess, and like what it’s been like to be able to use the technology, especially without being able to kind of talk to anybody who’s used it before?  

Dr. Biehler: I think the biggest thing I noticed – like I said, I was looking forward at something that would give me moving quickly, even though they had me up and walking the evening after the surgery and the next morning.  But I wasn’t going to go to actual physical therapy for I think at least a week afterwards.  So, wanted something to do, but I didn’t realize how much I would look forward to the sessions each day.  I do it four times a day.  Most of the rest of the time, I was just sitting in a chair.  So, it was a very good feeling to be moving around. 

What does that say?  Is it your birthday today?

Toree: Last week was my birthday, and somehow, we just got pushed over to the same over cover.  Sorry, don’t mind me. 

Physical Therapy with PortableConnect

Dr. Biehler: Yeah, it gave me something to look forward to four times a day there that made me feel like I was doing something.  And it was very obvious that it was helping.  I mean, it gives you feedback.  You can see as you increase the pedal radius every couple of days.  You know you’re getting more range of motion, so it’s positive feedback to me.  It’s really great.  

Toree: Yeah, I mean, there are several things, kind of that are different aspects to it, right?  So, you being able to kind of see your progress, it giving you feedback, you being able to move right away.  Out of everything, what features do you think were the most helpful for you?

Dr. Biehler: I love the passive mode that you start each session with.  It was almost relaxing to have the machine move your legs through range of motion.  Because sometimes, you’re hurting after a surgery, and when you do the active mode, it’s a little uncomfortable if you pushed on.  It’s going to be uncomfortable anything you do after surgery like this.  So, the passive mode was really really cool for me, because again, I felt like I was doing something that I wasn’t working too hard there, but it was increasing the range of motion in my knees. 

Toree: Yeah.  Well, good.  So now, when did you first feel like you were able to get back on your feet without assisted devices?  I know that you had your surgery a while back, so it might be hard to remember.

Dr. Biehler: It is.  Everything is kind of blur, because I know, for the first couple of days, I stayed down on our basement, didn’t go up the stairs.  And I used a wheeled walker at first, but that’s almost more trouble than it was worth.  I ditched that pretty quickly.  So, I think I was getting around in two or three days.  I was getting to the bathroom.  I think I used some crutches for a couple of days.  And then within four days, five days, I was going up and down the stairs.

Toree: Oh my God, that’s incredible.  

Dr. Biehler: The surgeon was amazed at how quickly I got to the points I got to.  

Toree: Well, that’s seriously incredible.  I mean, a lot of the patients that we talked to, it’s like, yeah, they’re able to go into their two-week appointments without any assistance, no cane, no anything, but I mean, going up and down the stairs in a couple of days.  Of course, you’re holding onto the rails, but I mean the movement to be able to do that is really really impressive for a bilateral knee.  You’re really something, Dr. Biehler.  

Dr. Biehler: I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just hardheaded or something.  

Toree: Yeah, well, I take after you in that then.  So, after your whole experience, would you recommend that PortableConnect to other knee and hip patients for their recoveries?

Dr. Biehler: Oh, without a doubt.  I cannot imagine sitting there in a chair for a week before I started physical therapy.  I guess there’s not a lot of options because it’s hard for patients to get to physical therapy, other than having somebody come to your house, and I’m sure that’s an option at some places, but not many people can have that.  

Bilateral Knee Replacement Recommendation

Toree: Yeah.  I mean, especially with COVID.  Now, would you recommend people get both knees done at the same time?

Dr. Biehler: I probably wouldn’t want to do that again.  It’s kind of like one of those things I’m glad I did it, it’s over.  Yeah, one time was enough for that.  It’s worse than double having one knee done, because you don’t have that stronger leg to balance you or to take pressure off.  

Again, I don’t want to discourage people, but one of the main problems was trying to sleep, because when you got both knees done, there’s really not a position you can get in that’s comfortable, because it’s pressure on one knee or the other, no matter what you do.  So, that was another thing I didn’t anticipate, was how much trouble I’d have sleeping for quite a while.

Toree: Yeah.  Well, I mean, I feel like with anything, there’s positives and there’s negatives, and it’s just whatever makes the most sense for you individually.  So, of course, you don’t want to discourage them on, but to be given all of the information upfront, and things that, again, like you didn’t think about, like sleeping positions and that sort of thing, probably would have been helpful to know beforehand, so that you can make a completely informed decision.  I mean, I appreciate your input. 

Dr. Biehler: Well, on the flipside there, to get people to get surgery done when they need it is important too, because my surgeon was not really happy with me when he got in there.  He said it was one of the hardest knee surgeries he’s ever done, because I waited so long, but I just turned 58, which is really pretty young for a knee replacement.  So, in my mind – I’m not an orthopedic surgeon – I’m thinking the longer I can hold off before I get my knees replaced, the better, because then there’s less chance I’d have to have it redone again.  

He said no.  He said, once you get to a certain point – and I was past that point – you do damage to all the soft tissue, the ligaments, the tendons, everything around your knees that aren’t replaced, because I got range of motion very quickly, but I’m not 100% now.  And it doesn’t have anything to do with PortableConnect or physical therapy.  It’s all the damage that was in my knees, because I said to him, I said, “We’ve replaced the bad parts, why does it get all the way better?”  He said, “Well, we can’t replace all that’s bad with your knees.”  He did not laugh about that. 

When to Get Knee Surgery

Toree: Yeah.  Well, I guess let that be a lesson to everybody out there.  Go ahead and talk to your surgeons.  Don’t be afraid of the doctor’s office.  Don’t be afraid of what they have to say.  We always say age is just a number, which is true, and especially when it comes to knees, damage can be done in your 30s to your knees, to the point of needing a replacement.  It’s not an old-person surgery.  It’s an everyone surgery.

Dr. Biehler: As an anesthesiologist, I’ve seen them coming through, and we see them younger and younger now, all of a sudden.

Toree: Yeah, absolutely, and that seems to be kind of the common thing that I’m hearing from a lot of the surgeons that I talk to, especially those who work in professional sports and that sort of thing.  They’re seeing it younger and younger.  I guess people are just going harder younger now.  

So, I’ve got, I think just one more question here for you.  Now, for other patients who are going to be going through or about to go through this type of surgery, what would you want them to know?  I mean, outside of, of course, the double being a lot more difficult of a recovery than you thought it would be, was there anything that you wish you knew specifically prior to recovering from surgery?

Dr. Biehler: Well, I don’t think it would have made a whole lot of difference.  I wish I had taken it a little more seriously and how it’s going to impact me, how much trouble I’d have recovering.  And the other big thing is I just want people to know to get the surgery done, don’t wait too long.  I think that’s the biggest thing, because your recovery is going to be better.  It’s going to be easier, especially if you have the PortableConnect.

Toree: Right.  So, if your surgeon is not a PortableConnect prescriber, reach out to us, or just go see Dr. Biehler, he’ll tell you all about it.  

Dr. Biehler: Yeah.

Toree: Perfect.  Well, thank you so much for coming and hanging out with us, and having the time to chat with us, let people know about your experience.  It’s invaluable to us to be able to speak to somebody who’s not only on the medical side, but who was a patient as well.  

Dr. Biehler: Yeah, all right, thank you for having me.

Toree: Thank you so much.  And we’ll see you, guys, next week, same time, same place.  Be sure to follow us on all of our social channels that are in the description box below.  And we’ll see you all next time. 

Thanks for joining us.  Don’t forget to subscribe below.

Disclaimer: The content discussed on this program is often medical in nature, and is used for informational purposes only.  No content discussed should be taken as medical advice.  Please consult your healthcare professional for any medical questions. 

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