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When a Routine Knee Replacement is Anything but Routine


Kelly Beck was an active 48-year-old who enjoyed an extremely active lifestyle. So active, in fact, that his normal routine included basketball and racquetball, both three times per week, interspersed with any other sports activity he could find time for—including snow skiing, water skiing, hiking, biking and running. Not surprisingly, his knees eventually wore out, and in 2009 he decided it was time for a double knee replacement.

The recovery from Kelly's first knee replacement was (for the most part) routine, straightforward, and uneventful. With the exception of some stiffness and soreness, he was able to get back to normal life and focus on doing all the activities he loved.

Routine life also included routine checkups, like dental exams. For Kelly, during one such exam in 2016, he found he needed to get a wisdom tooth removed. Again, he assumed this was a straightforward procedure that would bring with it a straightforward recovery.

"I was extremely careful to make sure I took all the pre-medications as prescribed, to ensure I didn't get any infections," Kelly said. However, one night three weeks after his wisdom tooth was removed, he was canning peaches with his wife when she noticed he just "didn't look right."

Suddenly Kelly had chills, body aches, and felt lightheaded and nauseous. The next day he knew it was bad when he couldn't get out of bed for his annual Labor Day golf tournament. His daughter, a physician assistant, immediately sensed trouble and recommended he get a CBC—complete blood count—as soon as possible. Kelly's knee replacement experience went from routine to an emergency in a matter of days.

After his blood count was tested and found to be sky-high, he was immediately transferred to the emergency department at University of Utah Hospital. Once he made it to the U, the physicians tested the fluid that had by that point built up in both of Kelly's knees. His knee replacement hardware had become severely infected—a full seven years after his surgery. The emergency team immediately referred Kelly to Jeremy Gililland, MD, an orthopedic specialist who routinely takes on complicated cases that are less-than-routine.

Gililland diagnosed that Kelly's knees had both gone septic, and was able to remove the corroded areas of his knees before Kelly encountered permanent damage. For Kelly, this was particularly fortuitous because without immediate intervention by Dr. Gililland, the infection could easily have reached Kelly's heart—along with the artificial heart valve that had been placed in Kelly's chest cavity after a childhood bout of rheumatic fever.

During the emergency surgery, Gililland also inserted special antibiotic spacers into Kelly's knees in order to speed up healing and to ensure his knees would be able to accommodate new hardware when they were ready. Much to the team's surprise, Kelly was up and walking on the antibiotic spacers within a matter of days, and in four months, his new knees were in place.

Kelly believes one of the keys to his successful recovery was the "awesome" (he says he doesn't have a more fitting word to describe it) care and coordination he received from Dr. Gililland and his team, including technicians, physical therapists, nurses, etc. He says he quite literally couldn't have gotten back on his feet without the support and assistance of the orthopedics team. And he purchased University of Utah athletic apparel for the whole team to show his appreciation.

"I'm just so lucky that I was diagnosed and treated by Dr. Gililland. The new set of knees are so much better than the first set," Kelly says.

Today, he's back to doing all the physical activities he's always loved: hiking in the mountains, water skiing, surfing at the lake, and most importantly, gearing up to hit the slopes for the first time since his new knees were put in place. "I am totally unrestricted and I honestly feel like a new person," he said. And not only that, he'll never look at any procedure as being "routine" again.