Roberta R Standing Tall

“They are a great team,” she says. “They won’t let anything go wrong.”

Complex knee surgeries improve a woman's stance — and let her enjoy her favorite activities again.

When she was still working as a teacher and librarian in the Passaic school district, Roberta Rohleder sometimes walked hunched over. “People would say, ‘Why don’t you try to walk straight?’” she recalls.

It turns out, Roberta, now retired, had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. More importantly, she had developed another health problem as well: severe arthritis that degenerated both of her knees. Over time, her knees shifted to the left and right, creating a knock-knee deformity. “I was no longer walking,” she says. “I was waddling.”

By 2021, Roberta’s knees became so bad, she had to stop her favorite activity—swimming. Later that summer, she went shopping with a friend but decided not to go inside the store because it was too difficult to walk.

Frank Femino, MD
Frank Femino, MD

Seeking help, Roberta turned to a familiar name: fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon Frank Femino, MD, who had cared for her mother.

When he first saw Roberta, Dr. Femino immediately knew what was wrong. “Her legs were shaped like the letter X, which is a telltale sign of knock-knee deformity, or genu valgum,” says Dr. Femino, Chief of Orthopedics and Director of the Joint and Spine Institute at Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC).

The deformity causes severe difficulty in walking. “Roberta’s case was so severe that I worried she’d wind up in a wheelchair without treatment,” he says. The good news: “Dr. Femino said my condition wasn’t life-threatening, but it was life-altering,” Roberta says. “And it was fixable.”

Two Complex Procedures

To correct Roberta’s knock-knee deformity, Dr. Femino performed two adult reconstructive knee surgeries at CMMC, in November 2022 and May 2023. During the procedures, he replaced Roberta’s ailing knees with prosthetics.

“These two procedures were very complex due to Roberta’s severe deformity,” Dr. Femino says. “Adult reconstruction includes straightening the knee and reproducing the proper mechanical axis.”

Dr. Femino has a background in mechanical engineering along with orthopedic surgery, which makes him especially adept at achieving good outcomes in joint replacement and reconstruction.

Now fully recovered, Roberta looks forward to the next chapter of her life. “I can stand up tall,” she says. She can also grocery shop and walk longer distances. She looks forward to swimming in the summer again. And she credits Dr. Femino and his colleagues at CMMC for the dramatic improvement. “They are a great team,” she says. “They won’t let anything go wrong.”

Learn more about orthopedic surgery at RWJBarnabas Health.