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As Maria Wertz approached her 60th birthday, two events looked certain in her near future: retirement from the banking profession so she and her husband could indulge in their passion for sailing, and knee surgery.
The problem was, in Maria’s mind, these two certainties were incompatible.
For years Maria had managed an active lifestyle despite advancing arthritic pain in her right knee. “I could manage just fine with over-the-counter medication,” she recalls. “My pain level was not that severe, even though I’d had some cartilage removed and my knee had reached the point of bone on bone. It was more of a matter of inconvenience than pain.”
Nonetheless, doctors told her that replacement surgery was ultimately unavoidable. Then retirement and a chance for a change in life came when husband Bill sold his interests in a broadcasting company, allowing the couple to fulfill their ambitions of relocating from Michigan to the Pacific Northwest as all-but-full-time mariners.
“The idea was to live on our boat for several years,” Maria says. “Knee surgery didn’t fit into the plan.”
Maria’s story is a common one among millions of Americans suffering musculoskeletal problems. In decades past, orthopedic surgery was often perceived as a last-ditch effort, a complicated treatment requiring extensive open surgery, days or even weeks of hospitalization, and followed by months of painful rehabilitation and recovery to a more normal lifestyle – if one were even possible.
But after three post-retirement years aboard her sailboat, Maria Wertz had finally reached her physical and mental limits. “I felt that if I didn’t do it then, my condition would permanently affect my stance and walking,” she says. “And having a stable stance on a sailboat is very important.”
Having settled in the bucolic waterside community of Friday Harbor, Washington, Maria sought a nearby surgeon highly skilled in both medicine and communications. After all, she had gained considerable experience assessing health care professionals from 12 years as a director of guest relations and volunteer services at a Michigan hospital.
“I believe I can tell a lot about someone just from the way he talks, whether he looks me in the eye, and from the amount of confidence in his physical movement.”
Her path led to Dr. Daniel Hanesworth, partner of Dr. Rodin at Skagit Island Orthopedic Center. A seasoned observer of the smallest of clinical details, Maria’s first impressions were positive. For example, she liked that the SIO reception desk contrasted with countless other doctors’ offices in that it lacked a sliding glass symbolically separating patients from the clinic’s greeter.
At SIO, such matters happen not by accident, says Hanesworth. “As an established practice for nearly 15 years, we work hard to make every patient’s experience appear to be a simple process in a low-key environment.”
Hanesworth greeted Maria wearing neither a lab coat nor a stethoscope. An easy smile and relaxed manner put her at ease immediately.
“His informality was instantly comforting. He didn’t even wear a tie and was in no rush. He answered every question I cared to ask. The nursing staff was the same way – it was completely a calm, relaxed and soft atmosphere.”
A few weeks later, in an out-patient procedure that lasted a little more than an hour, Hanesworth performed a partial knee replacement for Maria. Following another hour in recovery, Maria was home by late afternoon, avoiding a hospital stay entirely – an achievement she appreciated from her own professional experience: “Twenty years ago, I might have had to spend a week in the hospital for the same operation.”
Two days later, Maria was on her feet, thanks to use of a walker. A week later, she had graduated to needing only a cane. “I used the cane less than a week because I kept forgetting where I’d left it,” she says with a chuckle.
In less than two months, Maria’s treatment had alleviated the pain and made her legs sea-worthy again. Now she can stand steady as she lives her dream of life on the ocean.