At 60 years old, attorney Michael Harris has a full life with wife, Annette, their four children and a grandchild on the way. As passionate as he is about his family and work, there’s another passion that keeps him going: his love of playing baseball. He has even won two national senior men’s baseball titles as pitcher for his team.
Harris is a lifelong athlete who swam competitively and played football, softball and baseball. But in 2013, he realized his knees might not hold out if he kept up his activity level without addressing the pain.
Three years earlier, Harris had consulted with Paul Lux, MD, Washington University orthopedic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, about the possibility of knee replacement surgery
“Dr. Lux told me that he would replace my knees when I was ready,” he says. “I kept playing baseball for a few more years because I was afraid I might never play again. I finally got to where I could hardly walk, and I was living through a lot of pain and immobility. I took so many anti-inflammatory drugs, but the pain was getting worse, and my knees were bone on bone after all the wear and tear.”
In practice for 30 years, Dr. Lux has done simultaneous bilateral total knee replacement surgery on more than 2,000 patients. Although he usually does only one knee at a time on most patients, he typically does bilateral knee replacements on 50 to 75 patients annually.
“It really depends on how much each knee hurts, the age, activity and health of the patient,” he says. “I also take into account a patient’s ability to do the therapy, the help they have at home and their motivation. Studies show there is no difference having two 45-minute operations at the same time, or one 45-minute operation three months apart.”
Like many of Dr. Lux’s knee replacement patients, Harris had osteoarthritis — a multifactorial condition that can occur due to a genetic component, weight, activity and/or trauma.
“Most patients have some history of trauma to their knee in their younger days, which causes damage to the cartilage of the knee, and eventually this causes osteoarthritis,” Dr. Lux says. “You can’t really wait too long from the surgeon’s standpoint for surgery, but the longer you wait, the stiffer and weaker the knees get, and the result can be less.”
Dr. Lux has been performing joint replacement surgery for decades and says that, since he began his practice, the average age for knee replacement has dropped from 72 years old in 1990 to 55 today.
Harris made the decision at 55 years old to have both his knees replaced at the same time at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital.
He remembers waking up from his knee replacement surgery and immediately wanting to walk. He laughs now because he says the first day seemed like there was “nothing to this surgery.”
"The next morning, they started bending my knee, and I went through the roof. It was so painful because the lidocaine had worn off,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this for 12 weeks.’ But Dr. Lux said, ‘Mike, I’ve done the easy part here. It’s five percent the surgeon and 95 percent you. It’s the hard work that the patient has to do after the surgery that leads to success.’”
Always up for a challenge, Harris says every physical therapy session after the first got better.
“I worked almost like a professional athlete on my therapy. I asked my therapists to be very aggressive with me, and I pushed myself,” he says. “I told them I don’t want to just walk again, I want to perform at a high level again. By twelve weeks, I was catching, pitching and hitting baseballs. It’s been a miracle ever since.”
In fact, in 2014, one year from his surgery, he pitched in a national title game with the St. Louis GameFace, which his team lost, and he vowed to go back and win. The next year, Harris helped lead the St. Louis GameFace to the Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series title in Arizona and helped lead the St. Louis Pirates to the Roy Hobbs World Series title in Florida.
Now, five years out from surgery, Harris says he feels like he’s 18 years old again and doesn’t let anything stand in his way. Between baseball and other athletic activity, Harris recently made the decision to revisit Dr. Lux to make sure his knees hadn’t been worn down from the wear and tear.
“Patients worry that the knee will ‘wear out’ with strenuous activity,” Dr. Lux says. “But the newer materials will last 25 years, and when the plastic piece does wear out, it’s a 15-minute operation to swap it out. That is why I do not restrict my patients in any way.”
Harris highly recommends Dr. Lux and Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, where he says he was treated professionally and made to feel very comfortable.
“I tell everybody my knee replacement surgery is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” he says. “You only get out of it what you put into it, but you can really get your life back, and you are never too old to play baseball.”
Barnes-Jewish, along with our Washington University orthopedic physician partners, have designed a patient guide to prepare you on what to expect before, during and after your joint replacement. To download, visit our Joint Replacement Patient Journey Guide.
If you or a loved one is interested in taking the first step to living a healthier lifestyle with a new hip or knee, please call 314-514-3500 or request an appointment online.
Physicians who have patients that could benefit from a hip or knee replacement can fax patient demographics to 314-878-7678 or call 314-514-3500. A Washington University School of Medicine referral coordinator will contact the physician regarding next steps.