VOORHEES >> The Virtua Joint Replacement Institute (JRI) here is bustling with activity after suspending non-emergent surgeries for nearly 10 weeks.

Although the team remained in regular communication with its patients – particularly those whose surgeries were postponed – the surgeons were unable to perform standard knee-replacement and hip-replacement surgeries due to statewide orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think people are starting to recognize that the term ‘elective surgery’ can be misleading. From a medical standpoint, the vast majority of them are absolutely necessary and time-sensitive,” said Dr. Scott Schoifet, medical director of Virtua JRI and a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.

“Our patient population typically has chronic, sustained pain that will not improve without medical or surgical intervention,” he explained. “Everyone was in agreement that we needed to reserve resources for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients, but all the while our roster of patients in need of surgery continued to grow.”

Now that his practice has resumed operations, Dr. Schoifet and his colleagues underscore the priority placed on safety.

Although the orthopedic surgical suite shares the same campus as Virtua Voorhees Hospital, Dr. Schoifet emphasizes that Virtua JRI has its own entrance, rooms, sterile processing department, staff, and air filtration system. All patients are tested for COVID-19 prior to surgery and are instructed to self-quarantine between testing and the surgery. Added safety measures in response to COVID-19 include limiting visitors, universal masking, and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting processes. Read more here.

Patient Story: An Active Grandmother

“I’m ready, and my knee is even more ready,” said Betty Kucowski when asked about her upcoming joint-replacement surgery.

The 77-year-old has boundless energy, despite the severe knee pain she experiences when pursuing her favorite activities – which range from making jam to babysitting grandchildren to leading the line-dancing group at her church.

Kucowski’s procedure at Virtua JRI was originally scheduled for March 18. She and her husband returned to Chesterfield, N.J., from a winter spent in Florida – a first for the couple – largely because of the surgery.

“In the first week of March, I had all the preliminary tests and exams,” she said. “I was all set to go … until the coronavirus came along.”

Kucowski spent the spring following Dr. Schoifet’s daily exercise recommendations, so she would be ready when she received her new surgery date. She’s now scheduled for June 3 – eight days after state government allowed elective procedures to resume.

While cautious regarding the coronavirus, Kucowski feels confident she will be well cared for when her surgery date arrives.

“I trust Dr. Schoifet. He wouldn’t do the surgery if it weren’t safe,” she said. “The whole team is absolutely awesome. Whenever I call and ask questions, they are always ready with answers. I know they are taking all possible precautions.”

Patient Story: Project Manager ‘Not Ready to Retire’

Like Kucowski, John Witt of Delran, N.J., also had to postpone his knee-replacement surgery. Instead of weeks, however, his was pushed back five days, from June 3 to June 8. A construction project manager, Witt first experienced discomfort in his knee about four years ago.

“For a while, the Cortisone shots helped to minimize the pain and inflammation, but we reached a point when both Dr. Schoifet and I agreed surgery was the necessary next step,” said Witt, 76.

The father and grandfather is eager to move forward with the surgery and hopes to resume his favorite activities pain-free. He does not intend to retire anytime soon, and neither does his wife, Carolyn, a surgical nurse.

“I enjoy working,” Witt said. “It stimulates the mind and keeps you moving.”

He also hopes to return to his preferred sport, golf, without knee pain.

“I hope to get as good as Charles Barkley,” Witt joked, referencing the former NBA player’s erratic golf swing, video of which has gone viral online. “I just have to keep at it.”

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