A Good Fit

Barbara Laterra suffered from knee pain for years, and in 2006 she received the first gender-specific knee implant in Rhode Island. Now she can finally go for a walk without crying.

Patient: Barbara Laterra, 65, Narragansett.
Doctor: Mark Coppes, orthopedic surgeon, South County Hospital.

Barbara: I have suffered from osteoarthritis in my joints, my knees in particular, for thirteen years. Doctor Coppes has been treating my knee pain for many, many years. I’ve taken anti-inflammatory medications, supplements like glucosamine, had cortisone shots, Synvisc injections and five arthroscopic surgeries to help alleviate the discomfort.

Coppes: Barbara had taken all kinds of conservative measures for her knees. We had even arthroscopically removed loose cartilage fragments and other debris in her knee to try to clean out as much of the degenerative changes from the arthritis as possible. Those conservative measures help for a period of time, but it’s usually a temporary step.

Barbara: The doctor said the reason my pain was so acute was that my knee joint had bone on bone contact. The pain was excruciating, and finally became so bad that I couldn’t walk much or even go to the grocery store.

Coppes: Barbara’s arthritis and the pain it caused became so restrictive that she elected to have her first knee replacement surgery on her left knee in June of 2005. Then, last summer, she told me she was ready to go ahead with the second knee implant. I told her about a new gender-specific knee for women that was coming out sometime in August, and she decided to wait for it.

Barbara: At the time of my second surgery, my right knee was in worse shape than the left knee had been the previous year. Tears came to my eyes when I tried to stand up. I knew how much the knee implant had helped my left knee, so I decided to have the gender-specific implant on my right knee. I asked Dr. Coppes about the difference in the implants, and I put my trust in him. He’s an excellent, excellent doctor.

Coppes: Knee implants have been available in different sizes for about thirty years, for larger people, for smaller people, but this new gender-specific prosthesis takes the design one step further, tailoring the knee joint to a woman’s anatomy rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Barbara was the first person in Rhode Island to have this implant, but I want to make it clear that I have no financial ties with this company. It’s simply a good design idea, and my patients are happy with it.

Barbara: With my second implant, I did not have to do the intense physical therapy that I went through the previous year at South County Physical Therapy, and my knee didn’t have as much swelling. I was back at work after about twelve weeks, but that was due to shoulder problems exacerbated by using the crutches in the first weeks of recovery, not because of my knee.

Coppes: Because her pelvis is wider, a woman’s kneecap is under greater stress than a man’s.With this gender-specific prosthesis, there’s a wider groove in the femur that allows for better tracking as the kneecap goes through a range of motion. In the past, tracking problems have been of particular concern in women. But, without exception, women who have had one regular knee implant and one gender-specific knee implant have told me there’s a difference.

Barbara: Evaporated isn’t the right word, but after the surgery the pain dissolved and now my knee feels much better. The right knee, the female-specific knee, doesn’t look different than my left knee. You know it’s not your real knee when you kneel down, but there’s no pain anymore, and I’m able to walk.

Coppes: Most of Barbara’s postoperative physical therapy is for her shoulder, which is also affected by osteoarthritis. She has no more complaints about her knees, and that’s the best thing. She’s not calling me to tell me she’s in acute pain.

Barbara: I can take leisurely walks without tears coming out of my eyes. If you saw me walking, you’d never know I’ve had anything done. And, if you see me leaning on my grocery cart, it’s because I’m tired, not because my knees hurt. I still have arthritis pain in my shoulder, but I’m not going to have anything done with that until they come up with a gender-specific shoulder for women.

— As told to Lisa Palmer
 Edited by O'Rya Hyde-Keller
Photography by Dana Smith