Life without pain is wonderful

02.05.2017 — Patient stories

Woman with glasses holding dog with big smile on her face

A life-long competitive athlete, Liisa Tenkula-Kemppainen, 51, had to slowly give up exercise altogether – as well as sleeping at night. After several operations on their legs, it was the joint replacement surgery that removed their pain and made exercise a joy again.

Living in Espoo, Liisa Tenkula-Kemppainen has always been physically active. For 11 years, she competed in track and field games, danced and played squash and tennis. Today, she goes golfing and exercises with her dog.

Her active lifestyle was disrupted by pain in her knee. The pain started a good 10 years ago when she was 40.

“I have always been competitive, and sports were a major part of my life. It was hard to accept that sports were causing me pain,” says Tenkula-Kemppainen.

To remain active, she underwent endoscopic surgery. This gave some temporary relief. The pain came back between 2008 and 2009, this time in both legs. At the time, Tenkula-Kemppainen was living in Australia and competing in tennis.

“Adrenaline saw me through many games. Afterwards I was often unable to even walk. It was truly painful.”

In the end, arthroscopy was performed on both knees, but the surgeon could not guarantee a full recovery. The knees did become worse after the surgery. When Tenkula-Kemppainen moved back to Finland in 2009, sports were off-limits despite the surgeries. Even short walks caused stabbing pain in the knees.

Her everyday life changed and she gained weight. The pain also began interfering with her sleep. Working as a project manager at a flooring company, she was becoming exhausted.

“Whenever I turned in bed, the pain woke me up. I tried propping my knees with pillows to keep them in a good position.” It became difficult to move from one customer to the next at work, carrying heavy sample bags.

Finally at Coxa, thanks to freedom of choice

Not one to give up, Tenkula-Kemppainen started looking for a solution. Public healthcare was out of options and would not carry out more examinations. This came as a shock to Tenkula-Kemppainen. A private healthcare provider suggested she undergo an operation to fix her balance. The operation required the insertion of a wedge in her shin bone to adjust her legs’ position and centre of mass, relieving the pain.
The operation was performed in a public hospital some two and a half years ago. It did nothing to help or hinder her, which was frustrating for her, having undergone multiple surgeries at this point.

“I was determined to find a working solution. I was not even 50 yet, so I still had many working years ahead of me. It took quite a toll on my well-being and mental health,” says Tenkula-Kemppainen.

A year and a half ago, Tenkula-Kemppainen happened to see a newspaper advertisement for Coxa’s promotional event in Helsinki. The event was about joint replacement surgery and when it was time to get one. The event was a eureka moment for her.

“Finally someone could explain it clearly,” she says.

“Before I felt that my suffering was dismissed. My surgery was put off time and again because of my relatively young age.” It was at Coxa that I was finally taken seriously.

The event was also the first time she heard of the freedom of choice in specialised healthcare. Tenkula-Kemppainen says this is something that should be brought up more. She booked an appointment at Coxa in October and by December she was in surgery.

“I came home on Christmas Eve. The surgery was my Christmas present,” she says.

Studded shoes and aquarobics

The surgery was challenging due to both knees being operated on at once. Tenkula-Kemppainen had prepared for the operation by training at the gym. Good muscle strength speeds up recovery. She spent the previous night at the patient hotel.

The surgery took four hours. The next day, Tenkula-Kemppainen was helped up, first to sit on the edge of their bed, then to light exercise and finally up and walking with a walker. Staying active is important for recovery.

“The physiotherapist came by twice a day to exercise me, which was a very positive thing,” says Tenkule-Kemppainen, glad for their active recovery.

Recovery and rehabilitation continued at home. Thanks to it being Christmastime, the family was on holiday and could help her move about. Tenkula-Kemppainen spent the first nine days on the second floor of her home, as the stairs seemed too challenging. This did not prevent her from walking and exercising.

Bit by bit, exercise returned to her life. Tenkula-Kemppainen is now an active golfer. A nine-hole course is not a problem. Heavy, pounding exercise is not good for surgery patients, but she found new activities during recovery.

“The best thing I found was water running. I highly recommend it for knee surgery patients and for other ailments. Water gives excellent, smooth resistance. You can have extensive motion and stress your muscles appropriately,” says Tenkula-Kemppainen.

Slippery wintertime demanded some creativity in exercise.

“When I went out, I put on studded shoes and tied the dog’s leash to my waist. I had poles in both hands. I had to get out, so I got going.

It came as a surprise that the pain lasted so long after the surgery. I was reassured by Coxa’s physicians as they pointed out the pain was due to the healing, and would take time to subside. It has now been a year, and I no longer have pain in my knees. I can also sleep pain-free. That is what I value most.”

“Although the surgery made me give up the sports I loved, I love living without pain more. I think I am still getting better. For example, I cannot get on my hands and knees yet, and my legs feel a bit wooden, but all in good time,” Tenkula-Kemppainen sums up.

She has kind words for Coxa staff, describing the nurses and doctors as friendly and competent. Her thanks also go to the cleaners. The ward was a comfortable place for patients.

“I am very glad I could come to Coxa to be truly heard out. The atmosphere was genuinely caring and relaxed in a good way,” says Tenkula-Kemppainen.