Ken L A New Lease on Life

“I can bowl six or eight games at a time now. My bowling is getting better than it was before the surgery.”

After years of tearing up the ice in hockey, wearing heavy equipment as a volunteer firefighter, and crouching behind home plate as a softball catcher, Ken Leivonen, 57, was often in pain as a result of knee osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage that cushions the joint wears away. A sports aficionado, he decided to take up activities that were easier on his joints: golf and bowling. Over time, even those sports caused pain.

“I had to use a golf cart because I couldn’t walk the course,” recalls Ken, who lives in Bedminster and works as a chemical engineer. “Last year, I was only able to play once, and I didn’t feel good about it because my right knee was holding me back.” Ken also had trouble walking through airports during frequent business trips. “My knees were worn out,” he says. “Sometimes I would have to walk half a mile between gates, and I couldn’t make it without almost being in tears from the pain. During the last couple of trips, I actually called for a cart to bring me to my gate. Needless to say, I felt very low about this.”

Conquering knee pain
Four years ago, Ken began receiving injections to control the knee pain. The pain relief would last about six months, but after a few years, the injections weren’t as effective. Surgery was the only option. In July 2018, he had both knees replaced by Stephen Kayiaros, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset.

Now, he not only has new joints but also a new outlook on life. “Immediately afterward, I felt so much better,” he says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.” Last October, just a few months after the surgery, Ken traveled to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. , and was surprised by how many miles he could walk. “I went to the park with friends, and when I returned to the hotel I look ed at my pedometer on my phone and saw that
I had walked 21 miles that day,” he says.

In March, Ken traveled to Las Vegas for a bowling tournament. He bowled his average, and he’s optimistic his game will improve. “I can bowl six or eight games at a time now,” he says. “My bowling is getting better than it was before the surgery.”

A smooth recovery
Ken was pleasantly surprised by how well the surgery went—and how comfortable he was afterward. “I had some stiffness from the compression bandages on both legs to control swelling, but it wasn’t very painful,” he says. Ken felt well enough to attend a lunch for joint replacement patients, which is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “We exchanged stories about our experiences and the activities we were looking forward to getting back to,” says Ken.

On the day of the surgery, Ken began physical therapy (PT). Before patients can leave the hospital, they must be able to walk, climb stairs, and get in and out of a car and bathtub. After Ken was discharged, he had two weeks of PT, during which the therapist came to his home five times per week. Then he had 10 weeks of outpatient PT.

Since the surgery, Ken has lost about 35 pounds through a combination of exercise and portion control. “Thanks to the surgery, it’s easier for me to exercise,” he says. Keeping his weight down will not only improve his overall health, but also the longevity of his new knees.

Last November, Ken attended a reunion dinner for joint replacement patients at the hospital. “It was good to talk to other patients,” he says. “Most of the people I spoke with who had knee replacements said they wish they’d done it sooner. You can add me to that list now.”

Easing presurgical jitters
Education and support are important for patients who may be anxious about their upcoming joint replacement surgery, so Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset requires patients to attend a presurgical class.

“Anxiety increases if patients anticipate a lot of pain,” says Marcella O’Herlihy, RN, Joint Care Coordinator. “They’re already in a lot of pain from arthritis.” The classes are led by O’Herlihy, as well as a social worker, physical therapist and occupational therapist.

Patients learn how to prepare for surgery and how they will be cared for at the hospital. They’re also able to ask questions and share their concerns. “Knowing when their lives will return to normal again really helps to reduce anxiety,” says O’Herlihy.

To learn more about joint replacement at RWJUH Somerset, contact the Joint Surgery Center at 908.704.3789 or visit