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Dr. Armando Avolio

Dr. Armando Avolio Dr. Armando Avolio Transform Lives Through Knee Replacements
By Nancy Kennedy

As Parochial Vicar of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Washington, Father Nick Spirko is a man who is familiar with miracles, but he never expected to experience one of his own. Father Nick’s personal “miracle” was performed by an orthopaedic surgeon, Armando Avolio Jr., M.D., of Advanced Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation (AOR), a group of orthopaedic surgeons who offer comprehensive diagnostic and surgical care to patients who are having problems with joints or other musculo-skeletal conditions. Father Nick’s surgeries gave him new knees that have transformed his life. “Knee replacements drastically improved my quality of life,” he says. “I had reached a point where I didn’t want to bear weight on my knees. My mobility was limited to where I did only what I absolutely had to do, instead of what I wanted to do.”

For a priest, that’s a problem. Father Nick loves being a priest, although it’s not an easy life. Priests have active lives, managing schools and churches, and are on-call 24/7, ready to respond when a parishoner is ill, dying, or in crisis. When Father Nick, 66, began developing osteoarthritis in both knees, it became harder for him to fulfill his responsibilities. “The arthritis slowed me down,” he says. “My pain would get worse throughout the day, especially with walking and standing. I saw Dr. Avolio, a member of the parish, and over the years I took anti-inflammatory drugs. As my arthritis progressed, though, I realized that there were things I would no longer be able to do, such as the Easter services. I decided in the fall that in order to be back on the job and ready to go by Easter, I would need a knee replacement during the winter.”

His knee replacements took place one year apart and were performed by Dr. Avolio at the 14-bed, state-of-the-art Advanced Surgical Hospital in Washington, which opened in 2010 and represents a new concept in healthcare: the facility is totally dedicated to orthopaedic specialty care. Patients who are undergoing joint replacement and other procedures receive all the services they need, including post-op P.T., in a single setting. As Dr. Avolio explains, there are numerous advantages to having surgery at this facility that is the only one of its kind in the region.

“Orthopaedic patients have unique needs, and our hospital is unique: it’s strictly for orthopaedic surgery so everything is tailored for that. Our team of surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, pharmacists and therapists provide the most advanced care available. With the small number of patients, the nurse: patient ratio is often 1:1, which enables the nurses to give superb care and personal attention. Our nurses love working here, and that kind of job satisfaction leads to improved care and outcomes. We have intensivists who follow every patient, and our anesthesiologists use sciatic blocks, which reduce pain and the need for narcotics, making patients better able to do their therapy.”

Advanced Surgical Hospital offers convenient, customized care in one place, which is appreciated by patients with compromised mobility. Patients receive a pre-op tour to familiarize them with the environment. For Father Nick, that preparation made a difference. “It helped because I knew what to expect. I was there for 4 days; the treatment was excellent. I was able to stand on the first day and my knee felt solid and strong. It’s a great hospital.”

Dr. Avolio says that Father Nick’s response is typical. “The feedback from patients just blows me away. Patients tell me ‘This was the best experience I’ve ever had in a hospital.’ I never heard that before but now, I hear it all the time.”

A native of Aliquippa, Dr. Avolio specializes in knee, hip and shoulder surgery, as well as sports medicine. He attended medical school at Baylor University and did his orthopaedic surgical residency at Hahnemann University (Drexel). He has been practicing orthopaedic surgery for 25 years, including 20 years in the Washington area, and performs 250-300 surgeries every year. Dr. Avolio loves his work. “Orthopaedics isn’t life and death surgery,” he says, “but quality of life surgery. I tell medical students and residents that it involves a lot of work and time, including going to the ER at night, but there’s nothing like hearing a patient say that you gave them back their life. Sometimes, the outcomes are dramatic. Recently, a woman cried and told me, ‘You changed my life. I can do things again. I was miserable but I’m a nicer person now.’”

Dr. Avolio says that knee surgery can not only improve the quality of one’s life, but also extend it. “A recent report said that joint replacement improves longevity because it gets you moving, and that’s better for cardiovascular health. People with painful joints are likely to be sedentary and that’s a major risk factor.” The decision to have a knee replacement is personal and Dr. Avolio believes that the patient must decide. “My goal is to keep my patients as comfortable as possible. When they’re ready, they’ll tell me, ‘I can’t live this way anymore.’”

With the population aging, there will be greater demand for joint replacement in the future. Dr. Avolio says that advances have made the prostheses better and the incisions smaller, but the greatest advance would be to find a way to halt arthritis. “There are misconceptions about arthritis. Osteoarthritis is genetic, but people who have it are unfairly blamed. It’s not due to the work you did or your weight. Genes, not obesity, are the #1 factor – but weight accelerates it once you have it. To stop the progression, people need to do non-impact exercise and lose weight.”

Father Nick urges people to have joint replacement surgery sooner rather than later. “Anyone who is having trouble with mobility due to knee arthritis shouldn’t hesitate to have surgery. It’s a lot to go through, but nothing compares to being mobile again. It’s absolutely worth it.”

To learn more about Advanced Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, or the Advanced Surgical Hospital, visit www.advancedorthopaedics.net

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