Over the years, Mary Sproule knew her hobbies were putting extra wear and tear on her body. But she battled through the pain until 2019 when she realized she had to take action to save the lifestyle she loved.
“I’ve had horses my whole life. I used to ski and ride motorcycles as well. Riding is hard on the knees. I’ve always been active, but my knees were slowing me down a lot. I could only stand about an hour and a half in the saddle — I’d normally spend four to five hours,” Sproule said.
Sproule, 63, met with Dr. John Thompson, a Hip and Knee Surgeon at The CORE Institute. His message was clear: Mary’s left knee needed replacement, and her right knee wasn’t far behind.
“My first question: When can I get back on a horse?” Sproule said. “I wasn’t hesitant to have the surgery, but I wanted to know when I could get back to my horse.”
Dr. Thompson made it clear that Sproule’s knee and recovery would decide when riding was an option again. The damage from years of activity was evident.
“We often select the most painful knee first,” Dr. Thompson said. “And I recommend operating on one at a time.”
Sproule prepared for her knee replacement by going to the gym, working on her leg strength and losing some weight. After the replacement, she spent six weeks in outpatient physical therapy with The CORE Institute’s rehabilitation team in Surprise, AZ. Her focus was singular: returning to horses Buck and Rocky.
“Mary’s physical therapy was custom fit to her needs and wants to return to riding her horses”, said Physical Therapist Nick Bellinaso. “Our first goal was gaining her knee the active range of motion needed to step up and, on her horse, and then post in the stirrups. She was very motivated, worked hard, and was very pleased with her progress. She exceeded our expectations for returning to riding pain-free as soon as she did.”
Mary knew she had a goal to achieve.
“It was more of a determination,” Sproule said. “I’ve got to get through this. I’ve got a horse to ride. And man, I sailed through physical therapy.”
Sproule credits her entire support team for her rapid recovery. That includes not only Dr. Thompson and her physical therapy team but also the network of friends who ensured she was safe at home in those crucial early weeks.
“I had a friend of the family staying with me and my brother brought me home,” Sproule said. “Another person fed my horses and unloaded my hay. A family friend helped me feed the dogs. I don’t know how somebody can do this without help at home. The people who gave me emotional support helped me heal, too.”
On New Year’s Day, marking seven weeks since her surgery, Sproule went for her first post-surgery ride.
“I was able to ride for about 15 minutes that day,” Sproule said. “The longest I’ve been out now is an hour. It doesn’t hurt at all. Absolutely no regrets. I feel pretty normal now.”
While Mary continues to heal — it can take up to a year for the healing process — her story serves as a reminder to prospective joint-replacement patients.
“I believe patients that are more active and more eager to perform tasks after the surgery actually do better,” Dr. Thompson said. “The main thing that we can learn from Mary is that she had a goal to get back to riding and performing normal activities of daily living. Nothing was going to keep her from that.”