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Joint replacement patients gather in Hagerstown to celebrate friendships

October 27, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Like many of the joint replacement patients who gathered at the Elks Lodge for a reunion Sunday, Shirley Rogers remembers a time when she thought she might spend the rest of her life with a walker or in a wheelchair.

"I could hardly walk," said Rogers, 64, of Smithsburg, who suffered from arthritis and had both knees replaced within the past year.

Rogers noted that in the room of 585 joint patients, only one wheelchair and a handful of walkers were visible, something she said was a testament to the skill of Dr. Ralph Salvagno and his late partner, Dr. Tom Altizer.

Salvagno's practice, The Center for Joint Surgery and Sports Medicine at Robinwood, has hosted an annual reunion for total joint replacement patients since 1996, practice manager Paulette Laing said. Sunday's reunion included a free baked chicken dinner, wine and an opportunity for patients to give their new joints a spin on the dance floor.

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"It's just a fun thing to do for everyone," Salvagno said.

The reunion helps patients stay in touch with the people they met in pre-op meetings, in the hospital and during their physical therapy experience, Salvagno said. Many patients who have one knee or hip replaced later return to have the other one replaced, forming new friendships each time.

"It becomes just one big family," he said.

Frances Cromer, 87, of Smithsburg, said she has attended all 12 of the center's reunions and enjoys seeing people she met in the hospital. The number of people at the reunions has grown drastically since the first one, when about 100 people gathered in the lobby of the joint center's office, Cromer said.

Salvagno estimated he performs 300 to 400 joint replacement surgeries each year.

Bonnie Hargett, 62, of Boonsboro, a former medical secretary for Salvagno who had her right knee replaced last year, said the joint replacement experience has improved since her mother, Mildred Griffith, 91, of Boonsboro, had her first knee replacement surgery in the late 1980s.

Griffith, who was Salvagno's second joint replacement patient, was in the hospital for 10 days after the surgery and spent two weeks at a rehab facility. When Hargett had her knee replaced in October 2007, she was in the hospital only three days and was walking the next day, she said.

In addition, the time the surgery takes has been reduced, and the replacement joints come in a wider variety of sizes, Hargett said.

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