Connecting Local Care to Advanced Surgery

Kitty Shallenberger of Hector was gradually giving up her regular three-mile walks with friends because the aching in her right knee had grown more painful during the last few years.

She needed to have knee replacement surgery, but high blood sugar levels related to her diabetes had postponed the procedure several times at the hospital her family had regularly used for years. Seeing her active life recede from the Zumba classes, Pickleball games, and walks that she once enjoyed was discouraging her.

“Not being able to walk really impacts your life. It affected where I could go, what I could do, and whether I could climb the stairs,” she says.

After surgery was delayed several times, Shallenberger discussed the knee surgery with her primary care physician Dr. Benjamin Saks, who sees patients at Schuyler Hospital.

“He told me he did not feel comfortable with me having surgery at a hospital where he would not be involved in my care,” she recalls. “I thought about that and realized I also was not comfortable because there was a disconnect. I was going to another hospital for my knee, but my doctor was not involved. I needed one doctor monitoring all my care and looking out for me.”

Schuyler Hospital’s affiliation with Cayuga Medical Center and Orthopedic Services of Cayuga Medical Associates provided the critical connections for Shallenberger to get her knee replacement surgery and for Saks to be part of her treatment team. He made an appointment last January for Shallenberger to see Dr. Joseph Mannino, an orthopedic surgeon with Cayuga Medical Associates. He sees patients three days a week at Schuyler Hospital, where he is chief of surgery and performs ambulatory orthopedic surgery for shoulder, knee, ankle, wrist, and hand injuries. He also serves as vice president of the medical staff at Cayuga Medical Center and chair of that hospital’s orthopedics department that handles a wide range of orthopedic care including knee and hip replacement surgery.

“I saw Dr. Mannino who did a thorough examination of my knee. It now felt that all of my doctors involved in my care were on the same page. That made me very comfortable with having the surgery,” Shallenberger says. Mannino performed Shallenberger’s knee replacement in March 2016 at Cayuga Medical Center and the surgery went well. After a few days of recuperation, she was discharged to Schuyler Hospital as planned to begin her rehabilitation with two sessions of exercises each day.

“The physical therapists made me work hard, and that was good as I would not have been so disciplined if someone had come to my house a couple of days each week,” Shallenberger recalls, “When I did go home, I was much farther along than I would have been had I not gone into the rehabilitation unit where I got such great care,” she says.

The continuity of care before and after her surgery extended through her rehabilitation. When Shallenberger was ready to go home, Schuyler Hospital completed an evaluation of her house. Climbing steps was still several weeks away for Shallenberger, so assistive equipment was delivered, along with a hospital bed for the first floor. The hospital also scheduled regular in-home visits and three weekly physical therapy sessions at Schuyler Hospital allowing Shallenberger to progress toward recovery.

“They really looked out for me, and made sure I got the care and support I needed. I felt like they were taking care of someone in their family,” says Shallenberger. Two months after her surgery, she was driving again and taking up the activities that she had not been able to enjoy for years. “It’s like getting your life back. For me, every day feels a little better.”

In a few months she’ll take the next step. Mannino will replace her left knee joint at Cayuga Medical Center followed by rehabilitation at Schuyler Hospital where her primary care physician will play a key role monitoring her care. “What I really like about the connection between Cayuga Medical Center and Schuyler Hospital is that everyone is involved in my care,” says Shallenberger. “I feel like I’m not a number but a person. For me this is the right decision.”

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