For more than a decade, Ann Statz endured knee pain that limited her mobility and restricted her activity. The 59-year-old Eau Claire, Wisconsin, resident avoided stairs at all costs and could hardly make it through a trip to the grocery store without stopping to sit down.
Because of the pain, she became less active and started putting on weight. That made the problem worse.
"Every time I'd go in to talk to a doctor about it, I was too young for any knee surgery and was always told to try to lose weight, which is hard to do when you can't move," Ann says.
In summer 2017, shortly after she retired from her career as a financial specialist, Ann was ready to take action. She had joined a weight-loss program and lost about 50 pounds. So she made an appointment with Ann Hoepner, a nurse practitioner in Orthopedics at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, hoping that knee surgery could help her. But her weight continued to be an obstacle.
"I needed to lose quite a bit," Ann says. "The standard body mass index is 40 before they would consider doing knee surgery. At my heaviest, I was up to a 48."
The news was disappointing, but Ann was determined. Although it took almost a year, she went on to shed the weight she needed to qualify for surgery.
Ann had surgery on her right knee in March and then on the left knee in June. Both surgeries and subsequent rehabilitation and recovery periods went well. Ann — who has lost nearly 140 pounds — is thinner than she's been since high school, and she says she feels healthier than ever.
"Before surgery, I couldn't walk to the end of the block without getting winded and hurting. It was just horrid," she says. "Now I can do 3 miles at a time and take the stairs instead of the elevator. It's just incredible what a difference the surgeries have made."
Discussions about losing weight can be hard, Hoepner says, and the care team always tries to approach it with sensitivity. But it is a crucial step in the process to get ready for surgery. Hoepner says she knows how devastating it can be when complications arise, and she wants patients to have the best chance to return to full function after surgery.
"We're just trying to eliminate risk, so people can get back to their lives comfortably," Hoepner says.
Jonathan Webb, M.D., a Mayo orthopedic surgeon, often teams with Hoepner on patient cases. Dr. Webb agrees that, when possible, it's important to make healthy change before surgery to improve surgical outcomes.
"Modifiable risk factors are the things that we're constantly looking to improve upon," says Dr. Webb. "Technically, in a lot of ways, weight is a modifiable risk factor. It's not an easy thing to do. It took time, support and effort, but I do feel that it ultimately helped Ann heal better and recover more smoothly."
Dr. Webb marvels at Ann's determination and commends her for losing the weight.
"She wholeheartedly believed in the importance of weight loss — not just for her knees and the ability to go through a surgery — but to become a healthier person," he says. "She embraced that and took it to a whole new level."
Weight has long been an issue for Ann. "Since grade school, I've struggled with my weight, and it has been up and down over the years," she says.
But she's confident she has it under control now. To help, her husband gave her a fitness tracker, and she averages between 11,000 and 12,000 steps a day.
"That has really been a motivator for me to keep going and moving and being active." Ann says.
Ann's health has improved so much that she no longer needs any medications. She recently was able to stop taking high blood pressure medication. Even some of her allergy-related asthma issues have improved.
"This is the healthiest I've been in many years," Ann says. "I'm amazed at what a difference this has made in my life, and I'm grateful for how Dr. Webb and Ann Hoepner have made this possible for me."
Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.