After two decades officiating local high school basketball games, it seemed like nothing could slow down Darrell Fields and Amy Frenz. But when the pain in their knees became unbearable, the referees feared they may finally have to hang up their whistles. Several doctors confirmed that the debilitating knee pain they experienced would make it nearly impossible to continue running and pivoting on the court. Luckily, surgeons at Centura Orthopedics in Colorado Springs offered a solution that promised to restore their once healthy joints.
Dr. Ronald Royce and his colleagues at Centura Orthopedics, which is housed under Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, are among the first in the Pikes Peak region to use Conformis 3D-printed replacement joints. This is a unique and cutting-edge solution where 3D-printing can be used to design a custom knee replacement. With orthopedic specialty practice locations in Colorado Springs touting some of Colorado’s most experienced and highly trained orthopedic doctors and spine surgeons, Centura Orthopedics offers the region’s most comprehensive orthopedic care.
Both Frenz and Fields have officiated high school games for the Colorado Springs Officials Association for more than 20 years, but when pain knee grew worse over the years, they knew they would need long-term solutions to continue their careers. Fields, who officiates more than 50 games per season, reached his breaking point when pain medications and cortisone shots no longer eased his severe knee pain. He reached out to Frenz, who had undergone a specialized knee replacement with Dr. Royce two years prior, using a custom-made implant designed from a 3D-printed mold.
“Each patient’s specific and unique knee shape and dimensions are used for the Conformis implant. It’s not so much the size of the knee, but the shape, that’s important in making these replacements so effective,” said Dr. Royce. “Conformis implants are designed to mimic the distinct shape and curves of each patient’s knee, creating an increased potential for a more natural-feeling knee.”
First, advanced imaging technology is used to create a 3D ‘map’ of the patient’s diseased or damaged knee. Those maps are then sent to a 3D printer and exact wax replicas of their knees are printed. Metal components of each knee replacement are then formed around the replicas— ensuring the proper fit for each patient’s unique anatomy. Clinical studies show this technology can lead to better outcomes compared to ‘off-the-shelf’ knee replacements, which only come in a limited range of standard sizes and must be adapted to fit in the operating room.
“It’s like getting custom-made shoes, fitted exactly for you. Patients no longer have to settle for implants that only come close to matching their bodies,” explained Royce, who trained with the surgeons who designed Conformis joints at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “These custom-made implants, which fit the unique size of each patient’s femur and tibia, allow for less bone and healthy tissue removal. Better fit leads to less pain.”
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States. Success rates for knee replacements are high, with 9 out of 10 people experiencing immediate pain relief and 95 percent reporting satisfaction with the procedure. In terms of longevity, 90 percent of the implants last 10 years and 80 percent remain in good condition after 20 years.
Frenz first injured her knee playing rugby as a teenager and consequently endured three knee surgeries to repair torn ligaments and meniscus throughout her life. Two years ago, the former University of Northern Colorado basketball player was finally told she would need a new knee to be able to keep officiating basketball games. Now at 60, Frenz raves about her personalized 3D-printed knee replacement and officiates about 30 games per year.
Frenz and Fields both praise their custom-made implants and agree that not only was there minimal pain, but the recovery time was much shorter for their knee replacements than previous surgeries to their respective ACL tears.
“The impact that has on your quality of life is really huge,” Fields said. “When you’re in pain for a long time, everything is more difficult, you’re able to do less and be less active. You’re just no fun when you’re in pain.”
For more information about Centura Orthopedics and Dr. Royce’s work with total knee replacements, please visit centuraorthopedics.org and click on “Knee Care.”