Partial Knee Surgery Provides Classroom Fodder for Teacher Jim Latimer
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jim Latimer - Partial Knee Replacement Patient

Jim Latimer, a longtime physics teacher at Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly, has always tried to keep his students interested in learning. But over the past year, he’s found a new twist for his lesson plans: discussing his partial-knee replacement surgery at Kennedy University Hospital and his successful recovery.

“The elements of physics are all there,” the 50-year-old Berlin resident said, adding that he strives to “bring the real world into my physics class.”

“Sometimes, examples used in physics are things like ‘when a cannon is fired’ – but let’s be realistic – how many people have fired a cannon?” Latimer said. “Physics isn’t just in the classroom, it’s in the real world and knee issues and orthopedic surgery is a great example of physics at work.”

Latimer’s knee problems started when he was in college; he wrenched his right knee in a sailing accident. Three surgeries were conducted to repair the knee, which had suffered a torn meniscus: in 1983, 1989 and again in 1994.

“I lived with on and off pain but it was getting worse and worse each year,” Latimer recalled. Eventually, I started restricting my activities, so I knew I needed to address the problem.” 

Over time, he underwent a series of injections of steroids and lubricants, but it became evident that a knee replacement would be his only “real” option for permanent pain relief.

After meeting with Dr. Jess Lonner of the Rothman Institute in Washington Township, NJ, Latimer was heartened to learn he was an ideal patient to undergo MAKOplasty®, a new, minimally invasive robotically assisted partial knee replacement procedure. Dr. Lonner, the first orthopedic surgeon in South Jersey to perform a MAKOplasty® partial knee procedure, operated on Jim Latimer on July 25, 2011 at Kennedy  University Hospital in Washington Township.

“My recovery was amazing,” Latimer recalled. “I underwent PT with some wonderful therapists and I was better than ever and pain-free within a matter of weeks.”

He returned to teaching on schedule in September and back to all of his regular activities by the start of October. So it seemed logical to Latimer to integrate his knee surgery – and the mechanics of a functional knee – into his class curriculum.

“That’s about as ‘real-life’ as you can get,” he explains. “The kids thought it was very interesting to learn about.”

Latimer said he discusses his knee problems, and subsequent surgery and recovery, in class, touching on everything from the physics and physiological mechanisms of knee injuries to the shearing forces affecting the knee and the lifespan of the replacement joint.

“It’s all an example of taking the concepts from the classroom and putting them into the ‘real world,’ which brings the physics topics to life, and helps in their understanding,” he said.

Dr. Lonner performs about 700 knee replacement procedures every year. About 35 percent of his cases are patients who are candidates for the partial knee replacement that touts a shorter post-surgery hospital stay, quicker recovery and less pain. The robotically assisted partial knee replacement system allows doctors to pinpoint the areas that need replacing and selectively replaces only that part of the knee without removing healthy tissue.

 “The conservative nature of bone and tissue preparation provides a valuable alternative to total knee replacement for patients like Jim, who have arthritis that only affects one or two parts of the knee, but not the entire joint. It allowed him a more rapid return to work where he can get back to teaching his students, which he’s passionate about doing,” Dr. Lonner said.

Before the surgery, a 3-D model of the knee is created from CT-scan images. The model helps surgeons devise a surgical plan, and determine the size and positioning of the titanium and cobalt chrome components. During surgery, doctors sculpt away the degenerated, diseased cartilage that is brittle, thin and riddled with potholes, Lonner said. These freshly prepared surfaces are then replaced by the small highly polished metal and plastic implants.

“With robotically assisted partial knee replacements, usually patients are walking in physical therapy the day of surgery, and are typically discharged the day after surgery,” Lonner said. “Most patients are off pain killers and done with their canes within two weeks, which is a quarter of the time to get off those after a total knee replacement surgery.” More than 600,000 total knee replacements are performed in the country every year. Lonner believes that about 50 to 75 percent of patients suffering with knee arthritis could be candidates for partial knee replacements.

Jim Latimer, Dr. Lonner said, is a genuine example of a patient who qualified for the procedure – and who has become a true champion of it because of his successful recovery.

“Jim’s better than ever – and that’s the kind of outcome we’re going for,” he said. “Most importantly, he’s using his positive experience as a tangible lesson for his students. Who knows, maybe one day one of his students will develop the next great knee replacement!”