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Christ Medical Center using cutting-edge technology for knee surgeries

Dr. George Branovacki shows off new technology using an iPod do knee-replacement surgery Advocate Christ Medical Center Oak Lawn Wednesday

Dr. George Branovacki shows off new technology using an iPod to do knee-replacement surgery at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Wednesday August 22, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:02AM



Gail Giancarlo is going to Australia.

Actually, images of the Tinley Park woman’s knees are visiting the island continent in October for a presentation her doctor is giving. But those X-rays potentially could change the way knee-replacement surgery is performed at U.S. hospitals.

Right now, just Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn is using a new technology that employs a seemingly ubiquitous electronic gadget, the iPod, to improve the accuracy of the procedure.

Since mid-July, Dr. George Branovacki, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, has performed more than a dozen knee-replacement operations with the technology, which he said gives much more precise measurements in making incisions and placing the replacement knee. The result, he said, is less pain and swelling for patients, better range of motion and a longer life for the artificial knee.

Some of the people he’s worked on this summer, including Giancarlo, have had knee replacements using the more traditional method, which involves running a metal rod through the middle of the tibia to align and secure the artificial joint.

“This takes the rod out of the equation,” Branovacki said.

The results from the new method have been encouraging, he said.

“Pain and swelling have been minimal,” Branovacki said.

In July 2010, Giancarlo had her right knee replaced by Branovacki, and earlier this year problems with her left knee brought her back to him.

“We knew it was going to be done (replacing her left knee); it was just a matter of when,” she said. “The quality of life just wasn’t there.”

She figured this second surgery would be pretty much like the first. Then Branovacki called her a few days before the operation.

“He said he had this new technology and that I was the perfect candidate because he could compare the results from my first surgery,” she said.

It turns out Giancarlo would be the doctor’s first knee replacement candidate using the new method.

“Everybody would ask me, ‘You really want to be a guinea pig?’ ” she said. “I have so much faith in him (Branovacki). He did such a fantastic job on my first knee.”

Giancarlo, who was operated on July 18, said she noticed far less swelling with her second replacement surgery, and was ambulatory much quicker. With her first knee surgery, she relied on a walker and then a cane for an extended time.

“I saw him (Branovacki) two weeks after (her recent) surgery, and I could walk across the room without any help,” she said, adding she’s now walking two miles a day and is looking forward to dancing at an upcoming wedding.

‘GPS-like navigation’

Surgeons often rely on computerized navigation technology to make measurements at the surgery site, but that involves splitting their attention between the patient and a monitor that might be positioned several feet away, increasing the chances of miscalculations, Branovacki said.

Even two or three degrees off in the alignment of the replacement knee with the thigh bone and tibia can cause problems — increased pain and swelling, a longer healing time and reduced range of motion — and small errors in cutting the bone to accept the replacement joint can have long-lasting effects, he said. Remove too much bone, and the knee will constantly be hyperextended, but slicing off too little bone will leave the new knee feeling stiff, limiting the range of motion, Branovacki said. Better alignment also could extend the life of the replacement knee, he said.

What he’s using at Christ Medical Center is called Dash navigational software, developed by a German company, Brainlab. The federal Food and Drug Administration approved the iPod-based technology in 2011, and Christ is the only U.S. hospital using the system, according to the company.

The iPod is held in a cradle fitted with a pistol-type grip and outfitted with spheres no bigger than marbles, which, using a Wi-Fi connection, relay measurements taken on the patient to an infrared camera positioned a few feet away. A computer at the base of the camera makes calculations, then sends them to the iPod, letting Branovacki — who describes it as having “GPS-like navigation” at his fingertips — know whether he’s on target.

The doctor said he hopes to have 30 such operations under his belt before he and other orthopedic surgeons gather in Sydney, where he’ll discuss the results. Branovacki said using the iPod application adds only about five minutes to what is typically a 45-minute procedure.

“That’s good for the patient because they’re not under anesthesia for an extended time,” he said.

At the conference in Australia, Branovacki will note the improved results among those who’ve had knee replacement surgeries using the new technology. In particular, he’ll highlight the success of patients such as Giancarlo, who’ve undergone surgeries using both methods.

“She’s doing remarkably well,” he said.



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