In January 2012, Greater Regional Medical Center had nearly completed a $5 million surgery center on the northwest side of the hospital. It was built to accommodate two, new full-time orthopedic surgeons — Dr. Damian Mizera and Dr. William Ralston — and veteran general surgeon Dr. Robert Kuhl.
“It was a facility we were all very proud of,” said LouAnn Snodgrass, GRMC executive director, continuum of care.
Enthusiasm grew in February 2012 when the hospital hosted a private viewing open house at the new surgery center for GRMC staff and board members.
But then, April 14 came.
An EF2 tornado ravaged the GRMC campus on April 14, 2012, including damage to the new 20,000-square-foot surgery center.
“It was heartbreaking when the tornado hit because we were just getting ready to move into the new surgery area,” said Jackie Whitson, GRMC director of surgical services. “Excitement was building and then we had to take one giant step backward.”
However, staff persevered and repairs were made promptly to the surgery center. The first surgery ever done in the new surgery center was about two weeks after the tornado struck. It was a hernia surgery done by Kuhl.
“It was remarkable the way our staff worked through such a difficult situation,” Whitson said.
A lot of the excitement building before the new surgery center opened was based on GRMC adding surgeons Ralston and Mizera, and being able to offer full-time orthopedic services.
The first major orthopedic surgery — a total joint replacement — was done by Mizera in the new surgery center on July 30, 2012. Now, just more than one year later, Ralston and Mizera have teamed up to complete more than 325 orthopedic surgical procedures in the new surgery center, including 22 total joint operations.
A total joint replacement is done when an arthritic or damaged joint — most commonly in a knee or hip — is surgically replaced with an artificial joint.
One of those 22 total joint replacement operations was on 74-year-old Betty Wallace of Creston.
A couple falls, arthritis and years of use had caused significant pain in Wallace’s left knee. There was very little cartilage left in her knee joint.
“It was basically bone on bone,” Wallace said.
Originally, Wallace was to have her total knee replacement done in Des Moines.
However, GRMC’s new surgery center was able to open in the spring of 2012, and Wallace’s surgery was done in November 2012 by Mizera.
“There are many reasons I was happy I had the surgery at Greater Regional,” Wallace said. “It was more convenient for my family and friends. They didn’t have to go out of town to see me. I received exceptional care. Dr. Mizera made me feel comfortable and answered any question I needed answered.”
Wallace, like all total joint-replacement patients, was an inpatient at GRMC for the first three days. She received one-on-one rehabilitation care from GRMC’s physical and occupational therapists.
Wallace — because she had assistance at home — was released five days after her surgery. Most patients then return to Greater Regional twice a week after being released to work with their rehabilitation staff.
The word in the Creston community continues to spread that orthopedic surgical care is available at GRMC. Ralston and Mizera are on pace to do far more operations in fiscal year 2014.
Ralston said continuity has been good in the first year.
“There is a continuous process of improvement and efficiency changes,” he said, “but the first year (offering full-time orthopedic care) has been good from a quality standpoint. That’s because there was a lot of preparation and planning before we ever did a surgery.”
Mizera said he sees a bright future for orthopedic patients in southwest Iowa.
“Prospects are good for continual growth,” Mizera said, “with patient recognition that they can come to (GRMC) and get good care. Also, our staff will continue to grow in terms of size and experience.”
Editor’s note: Dr. Robert Kuhl has offered orthopedic surgical care since beginning his practice in July 1981. However, this past year is the first time GRMC offered orthopedic surgical care on a full-time basis.