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A golfer who plays more than 100 days a year, Murray Cassidy never ceases to give thanks for routines that other players take for granted.
“I can squat to line up a putt,” the retired Mount Vernon coach and teacher says with a bounce in his voice. “And I can drive the ball at least 25 yards longer now that I can transfer my weight to my left knee during the swing and don’t have to favor it.”
Given what Cassidy has been through, a lot of people his age – early 60s – would have thrown in the towel by now, forsaken the fairways and surrendered to a sedentary life.
For nearly half a century, athletics and competition have been the center of Cassidy’s life. Some might say he bears the wounds to prove it – a mass of scars reminding him of no less than seven knee surgeries. He suffered his first knee injury and subsequent operation at age 20, when he was a defensive back for the University of Hawaii football team.
“In practice one day, a coach had us doing drills taking blocks,” he recalls. “He told us to go half speed, and I did, but one of the blockers went full speed right into me.”
The resulting collision hyper-extended Cassidy’s left knee, tearing ligaments. A surgeon pulled and sewed the ligaments back together. After nearly four months in a cast, he returned to football. That was surgery number one, in 1969. The second surgery came in 1972 following a similar injury from recreational basketball. Then a skiing accident provoked a third surgery in 1983. A few years later, “my fourth surgery was from old age,” Cassidy says.
Aisle seating the only option
By then, worsening arthritis and decreasing cartilage meant he could bend his knee only slightly. Any activity that required sitting also required him to find an aisle seat – on airplanes, at baseball and football games, in auditoriums.
He favored his left leg so much that it atrophied and shrunk to an inch smaller circumference than the right limb. At times, even sleeping and riding in a car became nearly impossible.
And this was just the left knee. With two additional surgeries on the right knee, Cassidy underwent his seventh knee operation in 2005. That’s where the story turns for the better.
This time, one of our surgeons performed a total replacement of Cassidy’s left knee. In an operation that took a little less than two hours, the surgeon replaced the diseased and worn bones in and around the knee with a special manufactured knee.
The evolution of TKR
Each year more than 500,000 Americans undergo total knee replacements (TKR) for end-stage arthritis, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Orthopedists began developing the procedure before World War II and made significant breakthroughs in the 1970s by first gluing metal and plastic parts into bone.
In the years since, further advancements have refined materials and techniques and markedly improved patient outcomes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nine of ten TKR patients report “rapid and substantial improvement” in pain, physical ability, and overall quality of life.
For Cassidy, recovery required three days in the hospital and four months of hard work in rehabilitation with an SIO physical therapist.
“Rehab was the most important part,” Cassidy says. “It was like football practice. I hated to go because of the exertion, pain and groaning. But did it ever pay off.”
Opening the door for more from life
Before the TKR, Cassidy could bend his left knee only 56 degrees. After surgery and rehabilitation, his knee now has 127 degrees of movement.
“My quality of life is so much better,” says Cassidy, who remembers his declining physical abilities leading to bouts of depression.
“It’s not just a gain in range of motion. It’s mental. It opened the door for so much more activity, and that lifted my spirits. My thanks go to the entire staff at Skagit Island Orthopedics in the management of my care. They were all instrumental in giving me a better quality of life with so much more mobility.”
And what a full life Cassidy enjoys today. He substitute teaches four days a month, works one day a week at his favorite golf course, volunteer coaches at Mount Vernon High School, and spends time on a regular basis with three grandchildren.
Cassidy feels lucky to belong to a tightly knit club of TKR replacements.
“It’s easy to spot other people who’ve had the surgery,” he says. “I see the same small scar and I say to them, ‘Pain free now, right?’ And they just smile back and say, ‘Right!’”