When faced with a challenge, Tony Sparks has a way of always succeeding.
His work to revitalize the Mattoon Area Family YMCA as its former executive director is just one of his numerous professional and public service accomplishments. Prior to that, Tony led the Mattoon Community Food Center through a building expansion project, so it could serve more people.
The Mattoon native tackles each project by setting goals and diligently working to achieve them. His approach to recovering from knee replacement surgery in August was no different. Tony is grateful to Sarah Bush Lincoln Orthopedic Surgeon Eric Brewer, DO, for his skill in performing a state-of-the-art procedure and to Physical Therapist Sarah Hopkins for her guidance in helping him get back to the gym to return, in record time, to his active lifestyle.
Tony said he is a veteran to knee pain. A love of sports and being physically active, has meant “I’ve known knee pain forever.” Tony’s pain dates back to his days as a cross country and track athlete at Mattoon High School when he was diagnosed with a bone tumor on his right knee. While he kept running for years after it was surgically removed, he eventually turned to walking and cycling after repeated stress fractures, a skiing accident and general wear-and-tear resulted in two more surgeries, including a full knee replacement.
In April, Tony could no longer ignore the pain in his left knee. “I was hoping to go until my 70s before having it replaced, but when it gave out during a workout, I knew I was in trouble,” he said. “It was a combination of too many road miles and genetics.”
So, Tony pulled out the playbook he had developed as a result of his previous surgeries and immediately got to work. The first two steps involved working out with a trainer to strengthen the muscles around his left knee. Then he went to work to find the right surgeon. Following the advice of his youngest daughter, Melanie, a physical therapist, he sought a surgeon who performs Stryker Mako robotic arm-assisted knee replacements.
That’s when Tony landed on Dr. Brewer. This highly advanced robotic technology enables surgeons to provide a more predictable surgical experience with increased accuracy and faster recover times. “It was an easy decision to have the surgery at Sarah Bush Lincoln, and I was not disappointed,” he said. “Dr. Brewer has been through some sports injuries of his own, so he can easily relate.”
Tony was amazed to be moving about and feeling good so quickly after the procedure. “I had surgery at 11 am. I climbed stairs at 4 pm, and at 6 pm, midnight, and 5 am I was walking laps around the nurses’ station with a walker. It was incredible,” Tony said. “The nursing staff was just awesome. I couldn’t sleep and they were all so attentive. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Tony went home the next morning on crutches and was using a cane by the third day. He warns, however, that his progress does not minimize the pain associated with the procedure or the physical therapy. “I was doing laps around our house. I thought it hurt more when I just sat, so every hour I made sure I got up,” he said. (Tony admits that being overzealous might have, in fact, contributed to his pain!)
Tony started physical therapy on day four. “Sarah Hopkins is by far the best physical therapist there is,” Tony said. “I rehabbed with her after my first knee replacement 11 years ago, and she did an incredible job.” Tony worked out three times a week with Hopkins to regain extension and flexion, and his daughter, Melanie, checked on him in the evening. “Between Sarah and Melanie, I was in great hands. Whatever exercises they told me to do, I always did twice as many. I learned that after my previous surgeries, and it’s worked out really well,” he said.
Ten days after his surgery, Tony was walking a mile, and by the time he saw Dr. Brewer three weeks after the procedure, Tony was walking two miles a day. He returned to spinning (fast-pace cycling) classes at the YMCA in early November ―way ahead of his Thanksgiving Day goal.
Tony warns, “When you’re active, there’s going to be some pain with it. If I walk a mile, it’s pretty pain free, but by the time I walk two miles, my knee is tired and achy, so I just have to manage that – and decide what’s excess.”
Tony’s wife, Debbie, his three daughters and two granddaughters have been his biggest cheerleaders. “One highlight has been riding my bike with my six-year-old granddaughter Aubrey. She loves to ride bikes and she was so excited when I could turn that full rotation [of the pedal], so she and I have been riding bikes outdoors,” Tony said.
At 64, Tony is having fun challenging himself each day with workouts and cycling activities that often defy his age. “I feel very fortunate and blessed in my life,” he said. “I’m looking forward to pain-free living.”
For more information or to make an appointment with any of the Sarah Bush Lincoln orthopedists, call 217 238-3435 for SBL Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, or 217 342-3400 for the SBL Bonutti Clinic. For more information about SBL Physical and Occupational Therapy, call 217 258-2430