The Power of Extraordinary Recovery: One Teacher’s Journey Back

“I can’t thank Hoag enough. They’ve completely changed my life.”

For most of his adult life, Chris Nielsen, 47, had experienced varying levels of pain in his knees. As a full-time college professor, working at four local colleges, he spent up to 15 hours a day on his feet and was looking for a weekend job, too. As an active father and husband, Chris spent any free time he had with his family, biking and taking long walks at a nearby park.

In 18 years of teaching, Chris says the first 14 were just uncomfortable, but the last four were unbearable. He went from loving his job to dreading even walking to the back of the classroom when a student asked a question.

“I started finding any excuse to not interact with people. It was just too painful,” he said.

Chris was experiencing all the signs he might need knee replacement surgery in both knees but he didn’t consider it as an option. Instead, he found ways around the pain, like taking the elevator to skip just one flight of stairs or staying in the car while his wife ran into the store to quickly buy some groceries.

It took a dangerous fall down the stairs to finally push him to consider treatment.

After a family friend recommended orthopedic surgeon Dr. James T. Caillouette, Chris discovered the Hoag Orthopedic Institute (HOI). Ranked nationally by U.S. News & World Report for orthopedic care, the institute has more than 300 specialty physicians, including 81 board- certified orthopedic surgeons.

The pain Chris was experiencing isn’t rare. It’s shown that one in seven Americans report a musculoskeletal impairment in their lives. In the past five years and counting, Hoag Orthopedic Institute has performed the highest number of joint replacement procedures in California.

For Chris, Dr. Caillouette’s experience and demeanor were an instant match. “He made me feel comfortable right away. He showed that he cared and walked me through the process of receiving physical therapy before I would be ready for my surgery,” Chris explained.

When the day of the surgery arrived, Chris was more excited than nervous. “It couldn’t come soon enough. I completely trusted Dr. Caillouette and I was just happy for the surgery to finally happen.”

The surgery went better than Chris and his family even anticipated. Within 12 hours of surgery, Dr. Caillouette had Chris walking laps around the hospital floor. After his release, a physical therapist was immediately assigned to come to Chris’s house to help him recover quickly. This is customary at Hoag Orthopedic Institute, where all patients are assigned a ‘nurse navigator’ to help guide them through their entire experience.

This program is one of the many ways Hoag instills their core values into every facet of the patient journey. HOI’s mission - to restore, improve, and enhance the health and mobility of every patient through excellence in care - is the most important piece of what the hospital uniquely offers to the community.

Chris’s first knee replacement surgery took place in June 2015 and was quickly followed up with a second in December. “If I had a third knee, I would sign up again. I really would,” he said laughing.

“Before the surgeries, I couldn’t do anything. Now, I’m making up for lost time. We’ve resumed all our normal family activities – and it has been life-changing.”

For Chris and his family, the Hoag experience has given him entirely new way of life. Instead of enduring a grueling road back to recovery, Chris says it was easier than he ever thought possible. Within three weeks of his second surgery, he stopped using his cane and didn’t need to park in handicap spots anymore.

Today, he can fully keep up with his very active 12-year-old son, and continues to give Dr. Caillouette’s phone number to anyone complaining of knee pain. Chris even starts each new semester by showing his students pictures of his surgeries; if he can make it to class after two knee replacements, they can too!

“I can’t thank Hoag enough. They’ve completely changed my life.”