After a lifetime of struggling with his bad knees, Bob Schmidt, of Kenosha, had enough. Hiking, golf, playing in a band, and even everyday activities were nearly impossible.
“My left knee started hurting again last year when I twisted it,” Bob said. “I did physical therapy and had cortisone shots just to get me through the summer.” But for Bob – a husband, father, and grandfather – “just getting through” wasn’t how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. So he made an appointment to see Dr. Alan Gegenheimer, an orthopaedic surgeon with Froedtert South Orthopaedic Clinic. Dr. Gegenheimer completed his Orthopedic Residency in the Navy, where he was mentored by surgeons who trained at the Mayo Clinic for Total Joints, and the Cedar Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute for Sports Medicine. This experience helped Dr. Gegenheimer become the sports minded total joint specialist that he is today.
“Dr. Gegenheimer took the time to understand my goals,” Bob recalled. “I told him I wanted to get back to the activities I had given up because of my knees. Dr. Gegenheimer explained that there are different types of knee replacements, and that the surgery he would perform would give me the flexibility to bend and twist, unlike other procedures that might limit what I could do. I also liked that there was less removing of ligaments,” Bob said.
“Patients who need a total knee replacement don’t always know that they have options,” said Dr. Gegenheimer. “When a patient undergoes a “standard” knee replacement surgery and sacrifices their ACL and, possibly, their PCL, too, their arthritis knee pain gets better, but later returns when they become more active and put strain on their remaining ligaments. Gradually, the patient ends up deciding, ‘I guess I just can't do those things anymore.’”
“The knee replacement surgery I perform keeps all four of the knee ligaments: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), in the center of the knee, the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), in the back of the knee, the medial collateral ligament (MCL), that gives stability to the inner knee, and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), that gives stability to the outer knee. Preserving all four ligaments allows the patient to pivot on their leg, hike on uneven terrain, play tennis, or even downhill ski,” Dr. Gegenheimer said. “If you want to engage in those kinds of activities, the knee replacement I perform is what you need.”
Bob had the surgery on his left knee in early 2022.
“Dr. Gegenheimer and his team really helped me get ready, making sure I had everything I needed and knew what to do in advance so I could get around during my recovery,” Bob said. “I was able to drive again in about six weeks. Now, I can climb stairs normally, whereas one of my friends who had traditional knee replacement surgery has to take one step at a time,” Bob said.
Bob liked his results so much that he had Dr. Gegenheimer replace his other knee.
“The surgery I perform preserves all the knee ligaments,” Dr. Gegenheimer said. “The recovery is about the same as regular surgery: within about four weeks, patients can walk without a cane. Their rehab is usually over by six weeks, and by two months, they’re doing almost anything they want to do,” Dr. Gegenheimer said.
“My left knee feels normal again,” Bob said. “Next year, with my right knee replaced, I expect to be back doing more of the things I had to give up.”
Dr. Gegenheimer is the only orthopaedic surgeon in the region performing this kind of knee replacement surgery, although the surgery takes longer to complete. “I won’t sacrifice ligaments in someone’s knee knowing that they may end up giving up the things they like to do,” Dr. Gegenheimer said.
“For the patient who wants to remain active, this is the knee replacement surgery to have.”
Getting back into the game
James Zematis, of Kenosha, is a high school junior and captain of the varsity soccer team at St. Joseph Catholic Academy. “During our second game of the season, I was tackled,” James recalled. “When I fell, I felt pain in my knee and calf and had to come out of the game. Overnight, my knee swelled and I couldn't put any weight on it,” James said. “The next morning, I went to see Dr. Zacharias.”
Dr. Anthony Zacharias is also an orthopaedic surgeon with the Froedtert South Orthopaedic Clinic.
Dr. Zacharias said, “I specialize in sports medicine because I like working with patients of all ages after an injury to get them back to what they like doing without suffering chronic pain.”
Working with student athletes is an important part of his work. “I did my fellowship training at University of Wisconsin, where I took care of Badger athletes,” Dr. Zacharias said. “It was an amazing learning environment.”
“I was able to see James immediately after his injury,” Dr. Zacharias said. “Once I knew his knee joint was undamaged, James could start receiving more aggressive physical therapy treatments for his knee sprain right away, so he could return to playing soccer sooner rather than later,” Dr. Zacharias said.
“We really appreciated that Dr. Zacharias was able to see James the very next morning after his injury, and that James was able to begin physical therapy the same day,” said Erin Zematis, James’ mom.
“Dr. Zacharias worked collaboratively with the athletic trainer at St. Joe's who helped James rehab,” Erin said. “We expected James might be out for as long as three weeks, but he was back on the field in just a week.”
“My knee feels great now, and I continue to do the stretches Dr. Zacharias and the trainer taught me to prevent future injuries,” James said.
“If James ever needs reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his knees that has accumulated over his years of playing soccer,” Erin said, “we won’t hesitate to have Dr. Zacharias perform that surgery.”
Getting back to being a mom
Mariah Outinen, of Kenosha, wears a lot of different hats: wife, mother of two daughters ages four and five, web development project manager, professional photographer, and, since she was five years old, soccer player.
Mariah was playing an evening league soccer game when, “I heard a pop,” she said. “I couldn't straighten my knee and I was in a ton of pain. I couldn't walk on it or do anything. Having two kids, I was immediately asking myself, ‘How am I going to do this?’” Mariah recalled.
Fortunately, Mariah was able to see Dr. Zacharias right away. “We got her into the office to see me the following morning,” Dr. Zacharias said. “After X-rays and an MRI, we had her in surgery the next day.”
“Dr. Zacharias was amazing,” Mariah said. “Monday night I got hurt; Wednesday afternoon I was in surgery.”
“Injuries like Mariah’s are painful,” Dr. Zacharias said. “There are a few injuries in sports medicine where getting to surgery in an urgent fashion is important; this was one of them. Repairing these injuries as quickly relieves the pain, but it also decreases the damage and gets knees moving again,” Dr. Zacharias said. "These types of injuries can’t be missed, which is why I make myself readily available to patients to get the care they need. That also takes a team, and we have a great one. To get patients to surgery that efficiently means there are exceptional nurses, patient service navigators, and others behind the scenes doing amazing work,” Dr. Zacharias said.
“I'm doing very well,” Mariah said, “and well on my way to 100% healed. It’s so great to play with my kids again, and do the other things I couldn't do when I was injured,” Mariah said. “Dr. Zacharias is great. He knows what he is doing, and the way he explained things really calmed my fears.”
“Our whole team works to streamline our process so we can produce the best results for patients, while getting them back in action as soon as possible,” Dr. Zacharias said.
“It is so rewarding, and I feel very lucky to do what I’m doing, because it’s what I really enjoy,” Dr. Zacharias said. “When I'm not with my family or at work, I set up time at a surgical lab once or twice a month to learn and practice new surgeries,” he said. “It’s similar to an athlete practicing for their sport. I’ve read a lot of books by and about John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. One of the major keys to his teams’ successes was his emphasis on preparation and deliberate practice,” Dr. Zacharias said.
“Everyone at Froedtert South was super nice,” Mariah said. “Up until my surgery with Dr. Zacharias, I was a patient at another hospital in town. Now, I’m thinking that I should just switch to Froedtert South completely,” Mariah said. “Everyone has been great.”