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The Coach Approach Helps In Healing From Total Joint Replacements

Dec 04, 2008

Contact: Catherine Gianaro 
(773) 564-7285

Shirley Lieb of Chicago could barely walk due to her arthritis. Her chronic knee pain made stairs difficult; it even made traveling a challenge. She knew in August 2007 that it was time for a knee replacement, and turned to her husband, David, for encouragement. She was nervous about the process, but knowing David would be her “coach,” she felt more confident to proceed with the procedure.

Together, the Liebs attended educational seminars at Weiss Memorial Hospital and several meetings explaining exactly what would happen to her knee pre- and post-surgery.

“The arthritis in my knee was so bad, it was nearly bone-on-bone,” Shirley Lieb said. “I was scared of the pain associated with total knee replacement surgery, but I knew if I had the love and support from my husband, I could get through it.”

In 2007, Weiss Memorial created a program called Joint University that harnesses the healing effects of a companion through its special coaching support set-up. This new experience in wellness pairs a patient with a family member or friend who is with each other nearly every step of the way through the total joint replacement process—from pre-op meetings to post-surgery physical therapy.

“When undergoing surgery, fear and anxiety are powerful emotions, and when you have a loved one for the entire process, it decreases those emotions and increases natural endorphins making for a quicker recovery,” said Henry Finn, M.D., chief of orthopedic surgery at Weiss Memorial Hospital, medical director of the University of Chicago Bone and Joint Replacement Center at Weiss, and professor of surgery at the U of C. “Even if a complication occurs, people feel better because a loved one is nearby, which is more comforting than being dependent on strangers.”

A companion during the surgical process can not only augment healing, but also increase efficacy rates. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (“Social Connectedness and Patient Recovery after Major Operations,” February 2008), patients experience less pain and anxiety with a surgical procedure when someone familiar is close by and group support is available. The study also revealed that hospitalized patients who have visitors recover much faster than those who are left alone while recuperating.

Lieb chose her husband as her coach. “It was a lot of tough love,” she said, “but I couldn’t imagine going through the process without him.” Not only was her husband there during the pre-surgery education classes, but also afterwards, reminding her to take her medication and providing moral support and encouragement during physical therapy.

Lieb’s orthopedic surgeon, James Cohen, M.D., vice chairman of surgery at Weiss, credits the coaching program with more rapid recovery and excellent outcomes at Weiss. “Although there is always some pain associated with joint replacement surgery,” Cohen said, “one of the many functions of Joint University’s coaching component is to minimize the apprehension that is associated with this type of surgical procedure.”

Today, Lieb, who was the first patient to go through the Joint University program more than a year ago, said her husband’s coaching and promptings helped her recover quicker. Within a week of being discharged from the hospital, she was able to walk two blocks using her walker, and in just four weeks, she was able to travel to San Francisco to see her grandchildren.

“The experience would be horrible without a coach,” Lieb said. “Going into surgery, you’re nervous and excited at the same time. You forget your medications and other things unless there’s someone there to remind you. I can’t imagine going through it alone.”

Now, Lieb said she is back to life as it used to be. “Walking is a joy, not a chore.”

For more information on Weiss’ Joint University, visit or call (773) 564-5680.