Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- Each year, nearly 600,000 people in the U.S get a new knee. For most of them, there is a dramatic reduction in pain.
But now one local doctor is the first in the area to use the latest technology to make the surgery and recovery go faster.
Deborah Robichaux, 58, of New Orleans, was only in her early 50s when she started falling.
"Scary, scary," said Robichaux. "I really didn't know why I was falling because a lot of times my knees just would go and a couple of times I almost hit my head. I fell down the day after Thanksgiving last year, down some step. When I did come to myself, my left knee was behind me on the third step, right knee on the second step."
The diagnosis was osteoarthritis, or bone grinding on bone. Robichaux could hear her knees when she moved. She was in constant severe pain. Injections helped for a while, but then it got so bad she couldn't even sleep at night.
Then, four years ago, she needed a cane to walk.
"I felt helpless. My son was in the military, and when I told him I had to get a cane he said, 'No mama, you don't need that,'" she remembers.
But her quality of life was about to change when she met Touro orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Watson, who explained to Robichaux she needed double knee replacement surgery.
"I think knee replacement is really exploding across the United States. Certainly we have an aging population now and as the baby boomers get older, they want to stay more active and they don't want to deal with the pain they are having in the knees," said Dr. Watson.
He said it's not only high activity levels and aging causing problems, but also that more people are overweight putting stress on the knees. And since Robichaux's mother had problem knees, she inherited that risk.
"For Deborah, most of hers is probably genetic in origin. Certainly we know that if other members of the family have arthritis, the patient is more likely to get arthritis as well," said Dr. Watson.
So Dr. Watson is using new technology to fix Robichaux knees. She had the right knee done in May and the left one with our camera rolling in September.
"With the Custom Fit Total Knee Replacement, all the operative decision making is done before you even walk into the operating room. There's no extra pins. There's no extra cuts. There's no extra rods that are used to do the surgery," said Dr. Watson.
Here's how it works: Before Robichaux ever went into the O.R., she had a CT scan of her knees. From that a 3D model was made. That's when Dr. Watson made his decisions where to make cuts in the bones to fit the metal hardware knee implant.
The image is then sent to a company that custom makes the plastic models that guide doctors on where to make the precise cuts during surgery. That not only allows doctors to skip some steps during surgery, making it faster, with less time under anesthesia.
But there is also less cutting, drilling and blood loss, meaning less trauma to the muscles and tissue. And that makes recovery faster. The knees are also better aligned and studies show, in general, that better alignment means the replacement implant lasts longer.
Robichaux now has a medical card stating why she beeps in airport metal detectors.
But now life is good. She can keep up with the children in her extended family.
"It give me so much to look forward to because I had been so depressed over not being able to do the things that I was used to doing. But now it's given me a new outlook. It's wonderful. It is the best investment I made in myself," said Robichaux.
Insurance does cover this new type of knee replacement surgery.
Some people can have both knees done on the same day. For people with heart and lung problems, it's best to do one at a time.