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Walking Tall

The specialized expertise available because of the new MCMC I OHSU Orthopedics alliance is having an immediate impact on the lives of area patients.
Published on 4/11/2011
Author: Dick Baltus
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She was diagnosed with polio at age 10, and for more than 60 years Earline Matson has lived with its many after effects.

Twenty-four surgeries and multiple hospital stays later, The Dalles resident is now feeling better than she has in years. Just a few weeks removed from surgery to replace her painful right knee, Matson was up and about for the first time in months, walking with only the help of a couple canes.

Not just walking painlessly, she says, but “walking straight for the first time in years.”

Matson had almost given up hope. The orthopedic surgeon she had been seeing was, understandably, leery of performing surgery on her deteriorated right knee because, well, these days most orthopedic surgeons don’t see many post-polio patients.

But Matson figured if any surgeon had that kind of experience, it would be a member of the Oregon Health & Science University faculty. And several months ago she heard that Mid- Columbia Medical Center and OHSU were in negotiations to bring the university’s orthopedic expertise to The Dalles.

Matson was dealing with so much pain she could barely move around, so waiting until OHSU’s orthopedic specialists came to town would be difficult. But traveling in her state would be difficult as well.

She didn’t want to have to go to Portland for surgery if she didn’t have to. She didn’t have to. Matson had an appointment with Alex Herzberg, M.ENGR., M.D., the day after the MCMC | OHSU Orthopedics clinic opened this spring.

By that time, Matson’s right knee had deteriorated so much she could hear grinding and feel bone on bone when she walked. The leg would collapse regularly. Her left knee had been replaced 21 years earlier, and over the years, as her right leg got worse, Matson began to walk, she says, “like a duck.”

To this point, despite the effects of polio and the many surgeries she had endured, Matson had adapted well and enjoyed an active lifestyle. She traveled, fished, hunted, hiked and worked in her garden.

“I just learned different ways of doing everything,” she says.

But now she wasn’t walking much at all. Her bones and muscle were in such bad shape that Dr. Herzberg had concerns about performing the surgery too. But he also had experience with post-polio patients. Matson is now walking proof that experience counts.

After replacing her knee and rebuilding or manipulating the severely atrophied muscles surrounding it, Dr. Herzberg sent Matson to the mPower Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation unit at MCMC. She spent two weeks in intensive therapy, and is now in MCMC’s outpatient rehabilitation program.

In short order, Matson’s lifestyle has progressed from “mainly sitting in a chair” to walking around with the help of two canes. The duck walk is gone, and she is now counting the days when she will be at full strength to tackle her arch nemesis — the weeds in her garden.

MCMC’s new partnership with OHSU, Matson says, “is the best thing this hospital has ever done,” But it is far from the only good thing, she adds. “I’ve been in a lot of hospitals, and the care I received at Mid-Columbia Medical Center was the best I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “People were friendly and courteous, and they actually listen to you. And the food was so good I actually gained weight while I was in the hospital.”

Dr. Herzberg checked in with Matson frequently during her stay, and his physician assistant, Jennifer Van Atta, has provided continuity of care during her regular clinic visits.

Matson credits the mPower staff for pushing her beyond where she ever imagined she would be at this stage of her rehabilitation. She says her painful days of the recent past now seem like a long time ago.

“I had this really long time of not being able to do normal things; I was gimping around for ages,” she says. “But now I’m making progress by leaps and bounds.”

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