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Orthopedics and rehabilitation medicine

Knee replacement surgery helps Greg enjoy life again

Greg Converse next to his bicycle

By the time Greg Converse reached his late 50s, his active lifestyle – which included many bicycle rides, daily 5-mile runs and a vigorous weightlifting regimen -- had taken a hefty toll on Greg’s knees.

“I remember traveling to San Diego a few years ago and being in pain the whole time,” Greg says. “I was literally sweating and shaking from the pain.”

Following a referral from his primary doctor in 2018, Greg met with Dr. Scott Anderson, a UW Health Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in adult shoulder, hip, and knee surgery, who has performed more than 1,000 knee replacements in his career. It didn’t take long before Anderson confirmed that Greg had severe osteoarthritis. Bone was touching bone in both knees.

“Despite how bad my knees were, I was lucky I could still ride my bike without much discomfort, but even short walks became unbearable,” Greg says. “I am usually a very outgoing, positive person, but sometimes, I would just sit at home and cry – and I am not one to do pity parties. I knew it was time to do something.”

Although knee replacement surgery was clearly appropriate for Greg, Dr. Anderson typically discusses non-operative options with patients before recommending surgery. Unfortunately, the degeneration in Greg’s knees was highly advanced, leaving Greg with few if any non-surgical avenues.

“Just get it done,” Greg told himself

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life getting steroid injections and taking pain pills,” Greg says. “Ultimately, I might even lose my ability to walk, so I told myself it was time to just get the surgery done. To help with the post-surgery recovery, I decided to give myself a full body detox and lose about 15 pounds.”

Greg was scheduled to have his first knee replaced in March 2020, but a temporary halt to elective surgeries at the start of COVID-19 put Greg’s operation on hold for six months. When it got close to the day of surgery, Greg began preparing plenty of meals in advance, knowing that life would not be easy recovering from not one, but two knee replacements. (The first would be done September; the second in November.)

“I knew that recovery would be bumpy,” he says. “This was before the COVID vaccine, and I’d be cooped up alone in my apartment, having groceries delivered. I did not have a significant other to take care of me, so I’d focus on how much better I’d feel in a few months.”

Every day, Greg reminded himself that he’d be back on his bicycle by spring. The days of enjoying an active, pain-free life had vanished over the last few years, but he knew better days were not that far away.

Spent three decades abroad

Greg lived in Madison throughout his childhood and young adult years. When he was 25, he moved abroad, spending the next 30 years teaching English as a second language to students in five different countries. He returned to Madison in 2012 to care for his mother, who is still well and thriving at 95.

“I’ve lived in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong,” Greg says. “I love cooking ethnic – especially Asian – food, so I prepared many Asian meals before my surgeries that would be ready to heat up during my recovery.”

In addition to enjoying his own cooking, Greg found comfort in good music, TV comedies, movies and good books. His cousin Joy – also known as his “surgery guru” – helped keep Greg in good spirits through frequent phone conversations.

“It was hard, especially during pre-vaccine COVID, but I just put one foot in front of the other for my mental well-being,” Greg says. “Having never been through surgery or any serious medical situation before, I may not have been prepared for all of it, but I made a conscious choice not to complain or feel sorry for myself. I had been through worse times in my life, and I knew this was temporary.”

Today, Greg is nothing short of ecstatic. For that, he credits Anderson and his team.

“His bedside manner is so kind and friendly,” Greg says. “When we first met, Dr. Anderson immediately put me at ease and assured me he can fix my knees and straighten my legs, which had become bow-legged over time. He did exactly what he promised and now I call him my Miracle Man. And the nurses who cared for me were my angels.”

Greg also is grateful for his physical therapists, Isaac and Afton, who were extraordinarily adept at guiding him to full mobility while making each session fun.

“We laughed a lot, and I owe them all for bringing me back to a normal life,” Greg says.

Mindset also plays a large role in outcome, and Dr. Anderson credits Greg’s can-do attitude for much of the incredible progress he made in recovery.

“Greg’s positive mindset and intense motivation clearly played a big role in his excellent outcome,” Anderson says. “He took on the challenge very well. Meeting patients like Greg and having a part in getting them back to a better quality of life is an incredibly fulfilling part of this job. I'm very grateful and privileged to be a part of their journey."