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Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital Surpasses 1,000 Mako Robotic Arm-Assisted Surgeries

Lauri Cook, of Richmond, Ill., had been living with severe knee pain for many years, greatly affecting her quality of life and limiting what she could do on a daily basis. When injections stopped working to help ease her pain, she met with Brian Flanagan, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, who revealed that her knee was bone on bone, and that surgery was necessary to help her return to a pain-free life.

“When I first heard I would require surgery, I envisioned a long stay at the hospital and an intense recovery,” said Cook. “I didn’t realize I would start walking the same day of the surgery, and that I would be able to go home the same day.”

Dr. Flanagan used the high-tech robotic system called Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery to operate on Cook. The system allows the surgeon to image the knee with a CT scan, develop a 3D virtual model, and then load the model into the system to create a personalized pre-operative plan. The surgeon then guides the robotic arm to execute the plan improving joint alignment and creating a custom-fit implant.

The Mako technology can be used for partial or full knee replacement, which is a procedure designed to relieve the pain caused by joint degeneration due to osteoarthritis. By selectively targeting the part of the knee damaged by osteoarthritis, the surgeon can replace the diseased part of the knee while helping to spare the health bone and ligaments surrounding it. It can also be used for hip replacement surgeries.

Cook worked with her in-home physical therapist for about a month, and while it was challenging, she knew how important it was for a full recovery. She continued with outpatient physical therapy for another month after that.

And now, about a year later after her surgery, Cook’s life has vastly improved. With her knee now working properly and with no pain, she starting walking and moving around more easily. Along with cutting her portion sizes, she has lost 70 lbs., and has more energy than she ever had prior to her surgery. She is also off her pain medications that she had been on for more than 10 years.

Cook is grateful that she was able to benefit from the technological advances that were available to her and how the medical staff guided her through her journey to recovery.

“I am a completely different person than I was last year,” said Cook. “I was letting my situation control me. It felt good knowing that I had the courage to take control and take the leap to do something about it, and I am reaping the benefits of being pain-free each day.”

Kathleen O’Herren-Huston, of Lake in the Hills, also could not walk without experiencing significant pain. She has rheumatoid arthritis, so she knew improving her joint pain was unlikely.

“I had consistent, sharp pain in my knee where it connected to my shin. I couldn’t walk upstairs without pain, and it was difficult to do things I enjoyed, like gardening or running around with my son,” explained O’Herren-Huston.

“I had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and was not able to put weight on my leg for four weeks. I gained weight leading up to my total knee replacement because I wasn’t able to be totally mobile, as the pain was terrible. Then COVID hit, and it was a circle of defeat. The weight gain was hard on my knee, but it was hard to walk to lose the weight because of the pain,” she added.

When Dr. Flanagan explained she would require a total knee replacement to alleviate the pain, she didn’t hesitate and scheduled surgery right away.

“I asked Dr. Flanagan many questions and he patiently answered each one, reassuring me I was making the correct decision regarding my future mobility,” said O’Herren-Huston.

After surgery, she attended all scheduled physical therapy sessions and carefully followed Dr. Flanagan’s post-surgery instructions. Her positive attitude and willingness to follow her physical therapist’s instructions strengthened her knee, increased her range of motion and immensely increased her mobility.

“All my hard work to recover was well worth it. I am not in constant pain, and I am able to enjoy things in life that I thought I would never enjoy again.” O’Herren-Huston is currently walking 6-8 miles per day and has lost 63 lbs. since her January 2021 surgery.

Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital’s MAKO program recently surpassed its 1,000th MAKO surgery since it launched in January 2020.

“With the precision and accuracy that the MAKO system provides, we are able to provide our patients with improved outcomes,” said Dr. Flanagan. “Many daily tasks that most take for granted, including walking and going up and down stairs, were not possible for some of our patients without experiencing tremendous amounts of pain. With the technology now available, these activities are now back within reach.”