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Renee Heller

New knees—new lease on life

Renee Heller, of Winona, Minn., will never forget how nervous she felt during the days leading up to her total knee replacement at Gundersen Health System.

"That was the first time in my life I'd ever been hospitalized. I considered cancelling the surgery the night before because I was so scared," recalls Renee.

"I'm so glad I did it now. Everyone [at Gundersen] was just wonderful and put me at ease. I wish I had done it years ago," says the 61-year-old.

Renee was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at age 51. Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting an estimated 27 million Americans. It occurs when the protective cartilage or cushion between the bones breaks down over time leading to pain, stiffness and swelling.

Renee tried conservative treatment first. "I started with over-the-counter pain medications and then prescription pain medications and joint injections," Renee notes.

But with time, even the injections couldn't dull the pain. That's when Renee's doctor—Gundersen orthopedic surgeon Edward Riley II, MD—recommended that she have both knees replaced.

"It got to the point where I couldn't do everyday activities. Even grocery shopping was a real chore. I remember coming home in tears because it was so difficult," she says.

Renee also had to give up bowling, boating and traveling—some of her favorite pastimes. "Anything that involved walking was difficult. I had to do something about it."

Dr. Riley replaced Renee's left knee in June 2015, followed by her right knee in September 2016.

"I'm definitely happy with my decision. I feel great today. I don't limp. It's just amazing," says Renee.

A key part of Renee's recovery was her dedication to rehabilitation.

"I remember Dr. Riley telling me that patients have to do their part after surgery," says Renee. She took his advice to heart and never missed a physical therapy appointment. In the hospital, she was walking the first night after surgery. She continued outpatient physical therapy for six weeks at Gundersen Sports Medicine Winona, followed by a customized independent exercise program.

"I live and work in Winona so it was very convenient to go to therapy just three blocks from my workplace," Renee notes.

In addition to Winona, Gundersen offers outpatient physical therapy at two locations in La Crosse, Onalaska and Caledonia. Outpatient physical therapy is also provided at seven Gundersen regional sites.

"All of my therapists—Ryan, Aneissa and Gwen—were great. But what impressed me most was how much they cared for me as a person. They really cared. They created a customized program for me that worked."

Today, Renee can walk as far as she pleases—with no pain, no worries and no hesitation.

"I'd recommend Gundersen, and the whole [total joint replacement] program, to anyone. They made it easy," she says, "not once but twice."

Gundersen orthopedic specialists can help you get back to an active lifestyle—whether you've been injured or have chronic joint pain. Visit to schedule an appointment close to home.

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