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Studying Benefits of Weight Loss Surgery Before Knee Replacement

DANVILLE — People struggling with obesity are more likely to have trouble with their knees. But there’s a problem: if you weigh too much, most surge...

DANVILLE -- People struggling with obesity are more likely to have trouble with their knees. But there's a problem: if you weigh too much, most surgeons will say no to a knee replacement surgery.

So now Geisinger is leading a study looking at the benefits of patients having weight loss surgery first to make knee surgery possible, or maybe even prevent the need to replace that knee.

Joanne Walsh's physical struggles are easy to see. One of her knees is so bad that she's barely able to walk. Doctors at Geisinger near Danville believe her weight issues are contributing to that. But before Joanne can get knee replacement surgery, the woman from the northern tier must lose weight. To do that, she is getting bariatric weight loss surgery.

"I'm only 50, so I'm ready. I'm ready for the changes. I had some other health issues before this that led up to this, but now it's time to get on the road to better health," Walsh said.

Joanne says when her knee started to get bad, it impacted her job as a licensed veterinary technician. She had to a take a desk job.

Her mobility was limited, and her weight gain increased.

"When you can't exercise and do normal activities, the weight just piles on, so it's a catch 22."

Joanne is now a patient of Dr. Christopher Still, the head of Geisinger's obesity institute. He believes there are a lot of cases like hers.

"So there are a lot of patients out there who are told go lose weight and come back when you lose weight and we will replace your knee," said Dr. Still.

But for most overweight people, he says that's not easy.

That's where bariatric surgery comes in, actually altering the stomachs of obese patients so they lose weight and keep it off.

Dr. Still is starting a study to see the benefits of bariatric surgery before knee replacement, maybe even making knee replacement unnecessary.

"It's very simple. For every pound we take off, it takes off 5.4 pounds per square inch on our knees. So offloading all that weight takes a significant stress off our knees and joints."

Dr. Still hopes the research will show the benefits for obese patients and be beneficial for overweight people who feel lost when told they're not eligible for knee surgery.

Joanne Walsh is certainly looking forward to how it will benefit her.

"Just thinking, wow, we can go out and do anything. I haven't been able to do any hiking or the things I loved to do, so it's really exciting."

Geisinger got a $4.7 million grant to study the benefits of bariatric surgery before a knee replacement.

If you think you are a good candidate for their research on this, talk with your Geisinger doctor.