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Anglesey farmer, 91, can walk again after ‘miraculous’ 3D robotic surgery

Daily Post 08/02/2023 Andrew Forgrave

A 91-year-old retired dairy farmer from North Wales is back on his tractor after undergoing “miraculous” robotic surgery. Great-grandfather Owen John Thomas was unable to walk following a fall but he is now able to stride out on five-mile hikes.

Mr Thomas, from Holyhead, Anglesey, became one of the first patients to have a knee replaced using the ROSA® Knee (Robotic Surgical Assistant) system at the private Spire Murrayfield hospital, Wirral. The robotic technology enables surgeons fit implants according to a patient’s own anatomy rather than following universal surgical measurements.

Mr Thomas’ son, Tudor, said his dad was back on his feet – walking unaided – less than 24 hours after the operation. “He must’ve been suffering with arthritis in both knees for a long time,” said the 66-year-old, from Holyhead, who used to work at Wylfa nuclear power station.

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“He couldn’t put any weight on the left knee yet he’d always been very active all his life. It was miraculous how well he felt afterwards. He was back on his feet straight away and hardly took any painkillers at all.

“He’s now back doing what he was doing 10 or 20 years ago. It was absolutely marvellous and has definitely given him a new quality of life.”

Carrying out Mr Thomas' robotic knee procedure was Conwy-based consultant Mr Muthu Ganapathi © Mandy Jones Carrying out Mr Thomas' robotic knee procedure was Conwy-based consultant Mr Muthu Ganapathi

Mr Thomas, a widower of 15 years after the death of wife Mair, suffered a fall last year and lost all mobility. Previously, he had been active on the farm. For a solution, his family turned to Conwy -based Mr Muthu Ganapathi, a consultant hip and knee surgeon at the Spire Murrayfield.

The hospital is the first in the Wirral and Liverpool area to offer ROSA Knee surgery. The technique has been credited with achieving faster recovery times, less pain and a more “natural” feel in the knee joint – with patients typically back on their feet within days.

During the procedure, the technology works similarly to a high-tech GPS system, mapping reference points on the knee joint from a 3D digital plan which has been fed into the ROSA system.

A camera and sensor provide live feedback to the surgeon via a digital display. With the aid of a robotic guiding arm, the technology then helps the surgeon to do precise bone cuts to place the implants.

Even Mr Ganapathi was slightly surprised at the speed of the farmer’s recovery, given he was 90 when he underwent the procedure. “John was able to walk unaided with 24 hours – normally it takes around six weeks with traditional surgery,” he said.

Farmers are vulnerable to knee and hip problems because of the nature of their work. Which other jobs are more dangerous than they might appear? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mr Ganapathi, who lives with his family in Colwyn Bay, completed his orthopaedic training in Wales and Montreal, Canada. He had already performed more than 50 robotic-assisted knee replacements in North Wales before bringing the pioneering technology to Spire Murrayfield last year.

ROSA® was initially developed for brain surgery and has been adapted for use in knee replacement procedures because it offers more precision than the human eye. The system only guides surgeons and does not conduct the operation itself.

He explained that while traditional knee replacements are considered a successful form of surgery, multiple studies have shown that only 80% of patients report optimal outcomes post-surgery compared to 95% of hip replacement patients. This is probably because traditional surgical techniques are based on universal targets of mechanical alignment that may not suit the anatomy of individual patients.

“To use a very simple analogy, it’s the difference between wearing a ready-made shirt or wearing a shirt that has been stitched personally for you,” said Mr Ganapathi. “To achieve this personalisation, you need a very precise tool that doesn’t rely on the human eye. That’s where the robot comes in.”

Being a sociable type, Mr Thomas likes walking out to meet people © Mandy Jones Being a sociable type, Mr Thomas likes walking out to meet people

Mr Ganapathi was already a trailblazer in the field of knee replacements. Since 2012 he has carried out almost 1,000 procedures using MRI-based 3D moulds of patients’ knees to achieve personalised outcomes. Robotic-assisted surgery is a further refinement of this technique, allowing real-time adjustments during the surgery itself, correcting for things like arthritis.

Now fully healed, Mr Thomas is back to enjoying his regular walks and riding his tractor. “He’s very sociable and he goes out walking to meet people and talk to people,” said Tudor, who has two grown-up sons.

“He’ll still get on his tractor, it doesn’t faze him at all, and he’s very active despite just turning 91. He will go for a walk for three, four or five miles. He’s still driving now and doing most activities.

“The difference in him now is marvellous and it’s still carried on. From my father’s experience, it’s been brilliant.”

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