by Mercy's Mardi Taylor
After four joint replacements in seven months, Wanda Fugett is living her life again.
For Fugett, a hiking trip with her husband of 50 years was the first sign something was wrong. The couple was celebrating their 50th anniversary in Estes Park, Colorado, in 2018 when Wanda’s left hip began hurting. When they returned home to Hackett, Arkansas, she continued to have pain.
After visiting her primary care physician, Fugett was referred to Dr. Jody Bradshaw, physician at Mercy Clinic Orthopedics – River Valley in Fort Smith. Her first appointment with Dr. Bradshaw was Aug. 3, 2018.
After the initial consultation, both doctor and patient knew surgery was likely; however, Fugett had signed a contract to serve as a school nurse in the nearby Greenwood School District for the 2018-19 school year and wanted to fulfill the commitment.
“That was the very first thing I told him: I have to get through the school year. (Dr. Bradshaw) was so kind to me, because he helped me get through it,” Fugett said.
“I met Wanda trying to finish out her last year of work,” Dr. Bradshaw said. “She loved her job and was trying to make it to retirement and had been having a lot of pain in her hips initially when she came to see me. Her goal was to be able to finish out her job, so we started off treating her conservatively with medications, injections, therapy, exercises.
“And true to her word, she did finish out her job and was able to finish up her job and retire, and then she was ready to start ‘fixing’ her issues.”
As the school year was ending, Fugett had X-rays on both hips and both knees in May 2019, which is when Fugett and Dr. Bradshaw began discussing surgery. But first, they had to determine which joint to begin with.
Upon viewing the X-rays, Dr. Bradshaw said her left hip joint was “practically gone.” Fugett describes the joint in her left hip as being “about the size of an acorn.”
“He said, ‘I don’t know how she walked on it, even with a walker,’” Fugett said.
While discussing surgery, the newly retired Fugett was told it would take two years to have all four joints replaced. Fugett was eager to have the procedures done in a shorter amount of time.
“I said, ‘Is there any way we could do it sooner?’ and he said, ‘If you feel like it and you do well, we could do it sooner. And he was so kind because he let me have all four joints done in seven months, and I’m very happy and doing very well.”
“Wanda happens to be a really motivated woman,” Dr. Bradshaw said. “She had both of her hips and both of her knees that were very diseased and needed to be replaced, and she wanted to take care of all four of them as quickly as she could and get through so she could get on with her life.”
Fugett had her first surgery, the left hip, on June 19, 2019. Surgery on her right hip was Sept. 4, followed by the right knee on Oct. 30 and the left knee on Jan. 29, 2020.
Both Fugett and Dr. Bradshaw agree that a positive attitude and being physically active helped Fugett succeed during the surgeries and the follow-up therapy sessions. Danielle Fuhrmann, physician assistant with Mercy Clinic Orthopedics – River Valley, said it was an honor to work with Fugett.
“She always has such a great, positive attitude in the clinic. Even coming out of the operating room, she was already happy that she had her joints replaced,” Fuhrmann said.
Fugett stayed no more than two days during surgery on each of the joints. Follow-up therapy sessions began for Fugett almost immediately.
“You start physical therapy the day you have surgery,” she said. “The therapist comes in and you start your physical therapy. You have physical therapy twice the next day. They are very helpful every time you come in. They teach you new exercises, they make you go through the ones they’ve already taught you, work on every machine. As you go along, they add exercises.”
Therapy isn’t limited to just exercises you do at the clinic, however. Patients are given a series of at-home exercises they are expected to do on their own as part of the rehabilitation process.
“Wanda was super motivated in therapy,” Dr. Bradshaw said. “She worked hard after all of her surgeries, doing all the exercises and therapy things that we asked her to do. She always did what was asked, plus more, trying to get well as fast as she could.”
Fugett said her experience with joint replacement has been nearly 100% positive.
“I’ve been very pleased and very thankful to Dr. Bradshaw and all the staff at Mercy, because they’ve all been wonderful,” she said. “I’ve been very pleased with every procedure that I’ve had, with every visit that I’ve had, with every employee that I’ve had from … the Mercy Orthopedic Hospital. I think it’s a wonderful place.”
While Fugett’s joint replacement experience is unusual in that she had four joints replaced in only seven months’ time, Dr. Bradshaw said the timetable was fitting for a patient like Fugett.
“One of the things that helped Wanda is that she was still a very active lady,” Dr. Bradshaw said. “She kept herself well with her strength and fitness. She was strong and physically fit, and I think that helped her come through her surgeries a lot quicker and served her well.
“She’s clear. She’s ready to rock.”