Oklahoma doctor promises knee surgery without the pain

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Knee surgery is an incredibly common procedure, but often it comes with painful recovery and a need for pain pills.

But an Oklahoma surgeon is helping patients undergo the surgery without the painful recovery and without the use of narcotics.

It's what helped Janet Burks says got her life back.

Today, Burks can chase chickens and enjoy her garden; things the 54-year-old wasn't able to do a year ago.

"I was at the point in my life where I was looking at wheelchairs," said Burks.

A ski accident 18 years ago ruined her right knee.

"I just fell, roll, roll, roll and the ski didn't clip off," said Burks.

She had surgery and was medicated to the hilt, but the pain seemed to never really go away.

She avoided pain pills, but frequently relied on ibuprofen, an ice machine and shots of cortisone and other medications.

Still, she couldn't fully bend her knee or sit without pain.

"I had had over 200 shots in those years in each leg," she said.

Last year, she simply couldn't deal with the pain any longer. She was referred to Dr. Paul Jacob.

She was desperate for relief.

"I was hobbling. I was on a crutch and a brace and I was crying my eyes out," said Burks.

"You can see the fear in their eyes," said Dr. Paul Jacob, an orthopedic surgeon.

Dr. Jacob is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in knee and hip replacements.

"We want patients to understand you don't have to be afraid of this surgery," he said.

He says patients can have the procedure and even walk that same day, thanks to a non-narcotic medication called Exparel.

"I don't even prescribe IV pain medication anymore," he said.

Dr. Jacob says traditional knee surgery is painful and typically requires IV medications and prescription pain killers to keep that pain under control.

 "You wouldn't be able to let them walk for a day or two because with all that pain medication. They'd get light-headed or nauseated as soon as they sat up," said Dr. Jacob.

But thanks to Exparel, his patients don't have to rely on any of those options and aren't experiencing any of the dreaded symptoms that come with them.

"When you wake up from a big surgery like that and you think, 'Oh my gosh, here it comes,' and it never comes, that pain never hits you, it changes your whole outlook on the outcome of the procedure," he said.

While the surgery is much the same, the difference is Exparel is injected into a patient's knee before the incision is closed. The drug gradually releases.

"For days after the surgery, the medication is staying in that local tissue and slowly being delivered and numbing that tissue," he said.

Patients like Burks wake up with very little pain, making it easier to start rehab that same day.

"They are up and walking within hours, literally within hours of the procedure," he said.

Most patients stay in the hospital for a day or two.

In rare cases, it can be an outpatient procedure, allowing a person to go home the same day.

For Burks, it has been life changing.

"Some days, it brings me to tears to think I've been given a second chance on being active," she said.

She's even been able to get back in the saddle, riding horses, and take her grandchildren to the zoo.

"I said, 'This time, we're going to the back of the zoo,' and they just looked at me," she said.

A trip to see the elephants without stopping was extra special for her granddaughter.

"She was like, 'Memo! You're not limping. You're not having to sit down,'" she remembered.

She's now building memories she will be a part of, rather than watching everything from the sidelines.

 "I got my life back. I literally got my life back," she said.

Janet actually had her other knee done about six weeks later.

While Exparel is not new, it is uncommon in Oklahoma. There are just a few doctors currently using the injection.

For Janet, insurance did cover the cost of the procedure. She ended up paying less than $1,500 out-of-pocket.

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