Ed Dennison doesn’t need Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit to do some pretty amazing things. All he needs is a pair of running shoes and an artificial knee joint made from titanium alloys and polyethylene plastic and he’s good to go. And go. And go.
In fact, Dennison has been on the go since Parkwest Medical Center orthopedic surgeon Paul Becker, MD did a partial knee replacement on his right leg last July. Now, like the Marvel superhero, there’s no stopping him.
“The one I want to do is the Half Ironman in Kona, Hawaii,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal, and I believe I can do it. That’s what I’m working on – it’s a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a half marathon.”
The June 2017 race is an ambitious goal for any runner, but particularly so for a 67-year-old man who didn’t lace up a pair of running shoes until a decade ago and did so then only “by accident” because his triglyceride levels were dangerously elevated.
“I had gone to the doctor for a physical and they had done bloodwork, but called me back and said the lab had made a mistake and needed to do it over,” said Dennison. “Well, as it turned out, they didn’t make a mistake – my triglycerides were right at 1,000 (almost seven times the normal level of 150 milligrams per deciliter).”
Told by his doctor and a nutritionist that he “would never make it to 60,” the 42-year-old Dennison changed his diet and began exercising. “I was never overweight. I would have been one of those thin people who have a massive heart attack,” he said. “So we started eating healthy and doing exercises at home, just trying to keep my triglycerides down.”
Eventually, he and his wife began using the corporate gym where she works. It was there that he was coaxed by other runners into his first 5K run.
“My wife told me I was crazy and too old to do this stuff,” he said with a laugh. “She wouldn’t even go to watch me run, which was a good thing because after the first 100 yards I thought I was going to die. I thought I was crazy, had to go home and go to sleep because I was so worn out because I had run three miles!”
Before he realized it, he had signed up for another one. By the third race six months later, his wife was running with him. Today, he estimates he’s run four marathons and about 15 half marathons. “I try to run at least three half marathons a year,” he said. “I once did three half marathons in five weeks in 2013 and could’ve led up to my ‘demise’ in 2014. That was when I started having the knee problems and it really started hurting.”
It wasn’t the first time Dennison’s knees had given him trouble. Active at racquetball, soccer and other sports, he’d had knee issues since he was about 20. At age 42, he had arthroscopy on both knees and then again at 60.
His knees forced him to change his approach to half-marathons, running six minutes and walking one and other run-walk variations. “The result for me was an overall 20-second difference for the entire, 13.1 miles,” he said. “My best time running non-stop for a half-marathon was 2:23:34 and my best run-walk was 2:23.54.”
But after finishing a 10K race in March 2014, he was unable to bend his leg at a 90-degree angle. Cortisone shots by Dr. Becker, enabled him to “get through another year” of runs before the pain returned. At that time, Dr. Becker thought a total knee replacement would likely be needed but first suggested another arthroscopic surgery to “see a little clearer what’s there and what’s not.”
The results from that scope revealed Dennison had end-stage osteoarthritis in the medial compartment of his right knee. But the good news was that instead of a total knee replacement, he could have a partial knee replacement and still run half marathons.
“I was keenly aware of Mr. Dennison’s activity level and running program,” said Dr. Becker. “The whole plan was to keep him in this program as long as possible and do what it takes to return him to his current activity level. I was also aware that Mr. Dennison had adjusted his pace trying to keep up with his runs every year. I feel it is my position as a doctor to try to maximize a patient’s health both physically and mentally and get them back into their sport of choice.
“His lifestyle as a runner mapped out his treatment plan,” Dr. Becker added. “I do not have anybody running any significant mileage with a full total knee, the only way to get him back running would be to implement a partial total knee replacement. Therefore, we changed his treatment option to a partial total knee arthroplasty.”
“He did say that I probably don’t want to do full marathons because of the extensive training involved,” said Dennison. “But I told him that I’m OK with that. I can give up the full marathons. I’ve done four. I’m good.”
In a 50-minute procedure last July, Dr. Becker resurfaced the medial compartment of Dennison’s knee, smoothing out the areas of bone-on-bone wear. Within three hours of the surgery, Dennison began his first session of physical therapy. He was discharged from Parkwest the next day.
“Parkwest was great,” Dennison said. “The nurses, therapy staff and everybody were great. It really was an excellent experience. I knew exactly what to expect on the day of surgery. They were a very good group of professionals with a great attitude. If we have to have anything done again, we’re going to Parkwest.”
Today, he’s right back at his active lifestyle. “I have pretty much the same complete range of motion that I do on the other leg now and each week it gets better,” he said.
A month after his surgery, Dennison was back at his part-time job as an instructor for a treadmill class. He also joined a spin class that same month and two weeks later, started doing yoga once a week. In between, he also coaches a running group and walks at least a couple of miles on other days and is working on his certification to become a personal trainer. “That’ll be my next career when I grow up,” he says with a laugh.
“Running has just become a lifestyle with us,” Dennison said, adding that his wife has also run a marathon now. “The benefits have been tremendous. When I run I like what I do, my triglycerides good, and I say to myself, ‘Dialysis or run? Take your choice.’ So I run. The surgery was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It keeps me going.”