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iPod plays vital role in knee replacement

Dr. George Branovacki said new technology using an iPod allows for more precise cuts alignment replacement knee which reduces healing

Dr. George Branovacki said new technology using an iPod allows for more precise cuts and alignment of the replacement knee, which reduces healing time and lengthens the life of the replacement knee. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:24AM

An iPod to help fix a bad knee?

It’s happening at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where a doctor is using a new technology that employs the ubiquitous electronic gadget to improve the accuracy of knee replacements procedure.

Since mid-July, Dr. George Branovacki, an orthopedic surgeon, has performed more than a dozen knee-replacement operations with the technology, which he said gives much more precise measurements in making incisions and placing the replacement knee.

The result, he said, is less pain and swelling for patients, better range of motion and a longer life for the artificial knee.

Some of the people he’s worked on this summer have had knee replacements using the more traditional method, which involves running a metal rod through the middle of the tibia to align and secure the artificial joint.

“This takes the rod out of the equation,” Branovacki said.

Surgeons often rely on computerized navigation technology to make measurements at the surgery site, but that involves splitting their attention between the patient and a monitor that might be positioned several feet away, increasing the chances of miscalculations, Branovacki said.

Even two or three degrees off in the alignment of the replacement knee with the thigh bone and tibia can cause problems — increased pain and swelling, a longer healing time and reduced range of motion — and small errors in cutting the bone to accept the replacement joint can have long-lasting effects, he said.

Remove too much bone, and the knee will constantly be hyperextended, but slicing off too little bone will leave the new knee feeling stiff, limiting the range of motion, Branovacki said. Better alignment also could extend the life of the replacement knee, he said.

What he’s using at Christ Medical Center is called Dash navigational software. The federal Food and Drug Administration approved the iPod-based technology in 2011, and Christ is the only U.S. hospital using the system, according to the company.

The iPod is held in a cradle fitted with a pistol-type grip and outfitted with spheres no bigger than marbles, which, using a Wi-Fi connection, relay measurements taken on the patient to an infrared camera positioned a few feet away. A computer at the base of the camera makes calculations, then sends them to the iPod, letting Branovacki — who describes it as having “GPS-like navigation” at his fingertips — know whether he’s on target.

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