By Marie McAden
Photography by Nic Eve
When Dene McCain and her husband decided to move to Beaufort 15 years ago to live on their 36-foot sailboat, the registered nurse had no problem getting rid of almost everything she owned—including most of her wardrobe.
“You learn to live without a lot of things,” she said. “You really don’t need 20 pairs of shoes.”
But when a bum knee made it difficult for her to sail, travel and exercise, she didn’t take it quite as well. “It was interfering with the things I like to do,” said Dene, who works in the operating room at the outpatient Surgery Center of Beaufort. “It was interfering with my lifestyle.”
Her knee problems began in 2009 when Dene slipped and fell. After weeks of pain, she decided it was time to see a doctor. “Dr. Kevin Jones goes to my church, so I knew him and his wife personally,” said Dene, a member of Sea Island Presbyterian.
An MRI revealed McCain had torn her meniscus, the shock-absorbing cartilage of the knee. Dr. Jones recommended arthroscopic surgery, a minimally invasive outpatient procedure often used to repair meniscus tears. During the surgery, Dr. Jones discovered arthritic changes where there was exposed bone. There was virtually no cartilage left in Dene's knee. He explained to her when you don’t have any cartilage in the joint, you have bone rubbing on bone. This causes increased pain, possible instability and can interfere with daily activities.
Dene would need a knee replacement. But because she was only in her 50s, Jones recommended she wait as long as possible before having the surgery. To help reduce the swelling in her knee, she was given cortisone injections. Initially the cortisone injections helped, but over time became less and less effective.
Realizing she would be facing surgery in the next couple of years, she began a rigorous regimen of yoga. “I wanted to build up the muscles around my knee and improve my flexibility,” Dene said. “I knew the better shape I was in, the quicker the recovery after surgery.”
Despite her intense five-day-a-week exercise routine, the pain grew worse. It was becoming increasingly difficult to work in a job that required her to be on her feet for long periods of time. By the fall of 2013, she’d had enough. “I wanted to be able to keep working,” Dene said. “I wanted to exercise and sail and go on vacations where I had to walk long distances. I wanted my life back.”
She called Dr. Jones’ office and scheduled surgery for November at Beaufort Memorial’s Joint Replacement Center. In order to be prepared for what to expect in terms of both the hospital stay and recovery, Dene carefully reviewed a notebook provided by the hospital with detailed information on every step of the joint replacement process, from pre-op testing to outpatient rehabilitation. She also attended a pre-op information session.
During her two days in the hospital, she participated in joint replacement group physical therapy, which included a variety of activities and games to get the muscles in her knee working again. She had two weeks of therapy at home, followed by three more weeks at the hospital’s outpatient rehabilitation.
“I think I recovered quicker than expected because I had worked so hard at getting fit before the surgery,” Dene said. “It’s really important to stay active and manage your weight.” Two months after the surgery, she returned to work on a part-time basis. She began exercising with increasing intensity, slowly building up to three times a week.
“When I saw her at the six-month check-up, she was showing me yoga poses,” said Andrea Sadler, the hospital’s orthopedic care coordinator. “Her recovery was really impressive.”
Back to her active lifestyle, Dene couldn’t be happier. “I feel great,” she said. “I’m able to do everything I used to do.”
How did you downsize from a house to a 36-foot boat? We put everything on the lawn and had a yard sale. The few things we kept—photos, files, off-season clothing—we put in storage.
What was it like to live on a boat with your husband for five years? You learn to pick your battles. If you have an argument, there’s nowhere to go.
What do you do to relax? I’m a knitter. I carry my knitting wherever I go. I love making gloves, scarves and sweaters for friends. It makes them happy.
Where is your favorite travel destination? Scotland. We’ve been there four times. I love going to the small villages and meeting the people who live there. It’s a beautiful country. There are so many amazing things to see there.