Skip to Content

Breaking Through Barriers

I have my life back. Now I want to do everything for my body.

Karen Goemer, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care Knee Replacement Patient

As a certified nursing assistant, Karen Goemer is accustomed to putting the needs of others before her own. That only increased throughout the pandemic as staffing became tight for caregivers at Juliette Manor in Berlin, and Karen stepped up to take on extra hours.

The many hours on her feet began to take a toll on Karen. Since 2017, she’d suffered with knee pain that had progressively worsened.

Karen loved to fill her free time with walking, swimming laps at the local pool, and volunteering at her parish, All Saints Catholic Church in Berlin. Those activities became increasingly difficult as Karen’s pain intensified.

Throughout the years since her knee pain began, Karen had tried several treatments, including cortisone injections. Those measures stopped working, and one day in August 2022, Karen reached a point where her body wouldn’t let her carry on.

“I woke up, and I couldn’t even walk anymore,” she says.

New Hope

Karen found a pair of crutches and got herself in to see Justin Guzman, a Physician Assistant at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain. Guzman quickly recognized that Karen needed a knee replacement and referred her to Dr. David Liebelt, an Orthopedic Surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.

“Justin said, ‘How you worked all this time is beyond me,’” Karen recalls.

Forgoing vacations and working extra hours throughout the pandemic proved taxing, and Karen says she relied on her faith to get her through the challenging times. By the time her knee pain forced her to stop working, Karen had accumulated more than 300 hours in paid time off. Finally, she could rest.

Karen scheduled her knee replacement for Oct. 17, 2022. As the time approached, she felt ready and optimistic, and yet she understood the severity of her problems.

Karen was “knock-kneed,” which is to say that she had valgus knees. Knees with valgus alignments or deformities bow inward and either touch or “knock” against each other. People often asked her what was wrong with her legs.

“When I met Karen, both knees were deformed, and she was suffering from severe degenerative arthritis,” Dr. Liebelt says. “When you correct someone’s deformity like that, you are literally taking a crooked leg and making it straight.”

Shortly before her procedure, Karen saw Dr. Liebelt. He walked her through what the surgery would entail.

 “He said, ‘Karen that knee is bad. I’m going to do my best to straighten it out,’” she says.

‘Tears of Joy’

On the day of the surgery, everything progressed smoothly, and Karen recalls the moment she woke up in her recovery room. Soon after, Dr. Liebelt came to see her.

“Did you see your leg?” he said to Karen, drawing back the covers to show her. “It’s straight as an arrow.”

“Tears were rolling down my face, and I said, ‘Thank you so much, Dr. Liebelt,’” Karen says.

When the anesthesiologist walked in and saw Karen crying, he became concerned. A nurse quickly reassured him: “She hasn’t seen her knee this straight in a long time.”

Before going home on the evening of her surgery, the care team worked with Karen to ensure she could perform daily living tasks including getting in and out of a car and bed, and navigating steps. By 5 p.m., she was headed back to Berlin.

As is often the case for knee replacement patients, the first two weeks post-surgery were painful. But Karen says sticking to her prescribed exercise routine, taking pain medication, and resting helped her through the worst of the pain.

Karen’s recovery progressed, and as Thanksgiving approached, she had a goal. She wanted to help out at her church, assembling and distributing meals for those in need. By that time, Karen was recovering well and getting around with a cane.

Dr. Liebelt gave her his blessing for volunteering, provided Karen had a job that would allow for sitting. That day, All Saints Catholic Church fed 800 people, and she was proud to play a part.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I did this, and my knee survived,’” Karen says.

Reaching Goals

As Karen’s therapy progressed, she began to experience problems with her other knee. In late November, she saw Dr. Liebelt again and determined she needed to have her second knee replaced. The only problem: His schedule was booked until February, and Karen very much wanted to have the surgery as soon as possible.

“Wait right there,” Dr. Liebelt said.

“I never saw a man move so fast in my life!” Karen says.

Soon, a scheduler appeared and let Karen know of a last-minute cancellation in Dr. Liebelt’s schedule.

Karen had her right knee replaced in December 2022 and is well on her way toward getting her life back and charting new paths.

“This is why I went into orthopedic surgery,” Dr. Liebelt says. “Fixing someone with Karen’s deformity and disability and returning her to a normal life where no one could ever tell she had surgery, that’s the dream.”

Karen has found new motivation in all aspects of her life. At work, she can get around more quickly, easily, and painlessly. And having experienced and overcome adversity herself, she’s now inspired to help her patients to do the same.

When it comes to daily activities, it’s taken some time for Karen to reach her goals. Though she was itching to walk her brother’s German Shepherd, Karen had to wait until she was strong and stable enough to manage getting around with a pet. But today, she walks the dog every day before work.

Karen is also back at the pool swimming laps and overcoming obstacles. Prior to her surgeries, she couldn’t get out of the pool using the ladders. That all changed one day after her surgeries, when she decided to attempt it again.

“I tried it, and all of a sudden, one, two, three, I’m up,” she says. “I was almost in tears. This is something I could not do, and now I’m climbing the ladder. One of these days, I want to dive off one of the diving boards. That’s my next goal.”

Weight has long been a struggle for Karen. With both her knees now feeling better, she can stay more active. She’s lost weight and is focused on eating healthier.

“I have my life back,” she says. “Now I want to do everything for my body.”

Experiencing Knee Pain?

Tags: Juliette Manor knee deformity knee replacement ThedaCare patient story valgus knee

Related Articles

woman in sandals touching heel Bones & Joints

Keep Your Feet Safe and Healthy this Summer

athletic woman drinking from water bottle Bones & Joints

Stay Safe Running in the Heat