Health Trends

Local School Teacher Receives Life Changing Treatment through MU Joint Health Program

One year ago, 54-year-old teacher Donna Gerling sought help for the severe knee pain impacting her quality of life. The physician she saw diagnosed her with osteoarthritis in both knees, a common joint problem that results in pain, swelling, and the inability to do many of life’s activities. The physician said that while a total knee replacement, a surgery to replace her damaged joint surfaces with medical-grade metal and plastic, might be a good option for her, she was not yet a candidate because she was overweight.

“I was devastated,” Donna said. “I cried a lot.”

Donna said her knee pain was so severe that affected her ability to keep up with her job as a teacher.

“I remember sitting at my desk at school planning one of my few trips out of the room for the day, making sure I did as much as I could while I was gone, such as go to the restroom, make copies, call a parent, talk to a teacher, find supplies,” she said. “All because I did not know how many trips I had in me that day.”

Donna knew something had to change, and when that same physician recommended MU’s Joint Health Program, Donna decided to give it a try. The MU Joint Health Program combines group exercise designed for patients with joint pain, dietary counseling provided by a registered dietitian, physical therapy, and health behavior counseling that helps patients achieve their goals for addressing their pain, improve function, and opens up treatment options to enhance their quality of life. This six-month program is guided and supervised by an integrated team of healthcare professionals that work together to help each individual patient, with the option for patients to re-enroll at the end of the six-month period.

After a year, Donna says the Joint Health Program revolutionized her life.

“It has made me put taking care of myself as a priority,” she said. “Exercise has become a way of life for me now.”

Donna has lost more than 20 pounds during her year in the program, representing 10 percent of her starting body weight. But more than that, her knee pain has decreased, her balance, strength and function have improved, and most importantly, Donna feels like she has her life back.

“It has made me so much more confident and able to do the things I want to do and live the kind of life I love,” she said.

With her newfound skills, she has a plan in place for continued success. She has made exercise part of her daily life, often known to bring her kayak with her for day trips.

“I am up to two hours on my bike now, and I can actually get in and out of the kayak!” she said.

Donna said the best part of JHP has been the people, referring to the integrated multidisciplinary care team she has worked with throughout the year.

“All of the staff I have worked with made it a priority to get to know me, not only from a health perspective, but as a person,” she said. “I feel valued, cared for, and understood.”

She said the team has been incredibly accommodating, especially with her busy life as a teacher and graduate student. While each specialist within the team gave Donna valuable tools and skills, she credits Dr. Renee Stucky, the JHP health psychologist, with helping her implement the important changes recommended by the team.

“She keeps me focused on my goals and reminds me constantly to celebrate my success. Dr. Stucky has empowered me,” Donna said. “Through her I have learned to love myself and see myself as deserving of all good things life has to offer.”

Donna said she is just getting started and encourages others considering joining or already participating in JHP not to give up.

“Even when you are tired and it hurts … celebrate your successes, learn from your failures, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or to laugh at yourself. Use the staff and their knowledge to help you reach your goals.”

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