Back in the race

How can a 54-year-old man come back from knee replacement surgery to complete a 100-mile bike race just 18 weeks post-op and an Ironman competition four months after that?

According to Greenwich resident Ken Harris, the answer is determination to be physically fit before surgery, setting goals to achieve after surgery, and selecting the joint replacement surgeon he could trust to do the best job – Frank Ennis, M.D., of Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) in Greenwich.

“Dr. Ennis understood that I wanted to achieve certain things and we worked together to get me there. I learned that losing weight and getting fit before surgery would make the entire process so much easier, so I did what I had to do,” Harris says.

Indeed, studies have shown that people who are in good physical condition prior to surgery are much more likely to have an easier, faster and successful recovery than those who are in poor shape. Harris, for one, reinforces those findings. 

However, his road to presurgical fitness wasn’t an easy one.  Over the past 25 years, Harris’ athletic pursuits were moved to the back burner while he raised a family and built a residential contracting business.  At the same time, Harris began to experience pain in both knees that interfered with his ability to exercise. In 2014, the former Ironman and triathlon competitor contracted a MRSA virus in his right knee after seeking treatment for pain. That episode took a grueling six months to overcome.

Traumatized by the experience, Harris put off seeking any further pain treatment, even as it worsened over the years.  By 2018, Harris was so debilitated by pain, he couldn’t perform many of the tasks required in his line of work or even simply climb a flight of stairs. He knew he had to do something. That’s when he went searching for a joint replacement surgeon who would give him confidence that his previous medical nightmare would not be repeated. Friends recommended Ennis. 

 “Dr. Ennis immediately put me at ease,” Harris recalls. “He genuinely listened to my concerns and was cautious and sensitive to what I had been through. He gave me faith that I could get my life back, and he was there guiding me every step of the way.”

With confidence in Ennis’ surgical expertise, Harris didn’t feel any angst or fear going into the procedure. After, he was amazed that he didn’t need narcotics for pain.

“I took one painkiller after leaving the hospital, but once I realized that I only felt discomfort, I threw out the rest.  There wasn’t really any pain.”

An exceptional recovery was helped along through 12 weeks of rehabilitation at the Harrison office of the ONS Physical Therapy Center. By the time therapy was finished, Harris was ready to rebuild his strength and endurance on a bike so he could participate six weeks later in the GFNY (Gran Fondo New York) Championship, a 100-mile endurance race from the city to Bear Mountain.

While Harris may never run a 2:43 marathon again, he is motivated by what he can do, as long as Ennis gives him the OK.  On Aug. 18, Harris completed an Ironman competition at Mont Tremblant in Canada. It was just seven months and seven days from the date of his surgery.

“When I asked Dr. Ennis about doing the Ironman, his main concern was whether I felt up to it,” Harris says. “And he advised me to walk during the part of the race the involves running.  I could live with that.”

Cindy Catterson is director of marketing and communications for Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists in Greenwich. For more, visit onsmd.com.

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