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  • Pat McCarthy turned to her family’s longtime trusted orthopedist, Dr. Gregory Popich, at MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

    Pat McCarthy turned to her family’s longtime trusted orthopedist, Dr. Gregory Popich, at MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

    Titanium knees help Pierce County Exec. Pat McCarthy stay active

    Pop goes the Baby Boom: Knee replacements on the rise at MultiCare Allenmore Hospital in Tacoma

    by Cole Cosgrove

    Pat McCarthy doesn’t slow down for anything.

    This month, she began her second term as Pierce County Executive, which keeps her active at gatherings and events throughout the community.

    As a grandmother, she’s busy keeping pace with her five grandchildren, all under the age of 6.

    So when her knee pain grew progressively worse and eventually added a limp to her step, McCarthy knew it was time to seek treatment.

    “I’m very active: I travel and I have to walk and stand for long periods of time at events,” McCarthy said. “I got to a point where the quality of my life had really changed. At the grocery store, I was hanging on to the grocery cart just to push it.”

    “You don’t realize how much you really rely on your knees,” McCarthy added. “Pain is a very overwhelming thing, and it just consumes you.”

    As the Baby Boom generation aims to maintain an active lifestyle, the number of people undergoing their first total knee replacement surgery is projected to jump 673 percent - to 3.48 million - by 2030, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

    “People my age, in our 50s and 60s, we want to do the kinds of things we’ve normally done, and to live the kind of life we always have,” McCarthy said. “I needed to get back to doing those kinds of things without being debilitated.”

    For relief, McCarthy turned to MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine at MultiCare Allenmore Hospital in Tacoma. For McCarthy’s surgery, orthopedist Dr. Gregory Popich replaced her left knee with a titanium model. In addition to helping patients like McCarthy, Dr. Popich also works with professional athletes as the medical director and team physician for the Tacoma Rainiers.

    “I was kind of scared and nervous about having this done,” McCarthy said. “It’s major surgery and I’m a busy person. Also, I don’t like being out of control. I had a little anxiety, but I was so ready. By the time I went in to get it done, I was to the point where I needed to be normal again.”

    Total knee replacements are one of the most successful procedures in all of medicine, and more than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

    Surgeons averaged 191 knee-replacements per year from 2009-2011 at Allenmore. In 2012, Allenmore was on pace for 238 knee-replacement cases, a 25 percent increase over the previous three years. Surgeons had already performed 119 cases in just the first six months.

    MultiCare Allenmore Hospital, a community-based medical center near Highway 16 and Union Avenue in Tacoma, is well known for its specialty care in orthopedics, especially total joint replacements. After surgery, the team-based approach to recovery includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, care managers, and MultiCare hospitalists.

    That specialized team provides patients with a high level of care -- before, during and after surgery, said Dr. Popich.

    “From my perspective, the relative small size of the hospital means fewer patients altogether, so the nurses who work there become very familiar with orthopedic patients, and joint replacements in particular,” Dr. Popich said. “Because of the high number of joint replacements we do, they are very skilled at being able to ward off problems. And if one does develop, they’re able to pick it up right away.”

    About a year after her left knee surgery, McCarthy once again chose Dr. Popich and MultiCare Allenmore Hospital when her right knee began to deteriorate.

    “I would highly recommend Allenmore because they’re really set up well for orthopedic patients,” McCarthy said. “Nobody really wants to be in the hospital, but both times I had a fabulous experience. I stayed three days and received great care from everyone, from Dr. Popich to my marvelous anesthesiologist Dr. Thao Tran, to the LPN’s and RN’s, to the physical therapists and occupational therapists. They’re very responsive and I felt well tended to.”

    A few months after her surgery, McCarthy was attending a summer event on Anderson Island. Everybody was sitting outside, wearing shorts in the warm weather.

    “I looked around and everybody had that little line on their knee,” McCarthy said, referring to the small scar from knee-replacement surgery. “I brought it up, and we all had this big discussion about having our knees done. I think it’s kind of a Baby Boomer thing.”

    For others considering the procedure, McCarthy offers some advice she learned from her own experience.

    “No. 1, listen to your doctor,” she said. “No. 2, don’t wait until you feel like you need a walker or a cane to walk. Everyone I talked to said, ‘I wish I would have done it a year earlier.’”

    To learn more about MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, call 253-792-6555 or visit

    Posted on Jan 7, 2013 in MultiCare Orthopedics & Sports Medicine