Rita Wende's Story
“From the first day I saw [Dr. Sarpong], he listened,” says Rita. “And then he would call me almost every day to see how I was, which you don’t get too often.”
For Rita Wende, a 68-year-old retired nurse from New Jersey, showing up for family is everything. When a car accident in her 20s left her hospitalized for a year, Rita’s kids helped keep her going. She underwent more than 40 surgeries in the years following the incident—none of which stopped her from being present for her children, cheering in the stands at every one of their hockey games.
“It’s been a long, long, long history,” says Rita. “But I got through it and have a good, supportive family. I just make it work.”
So when Rita’s knee pain resurfaced in the fall of 2022, she had one thing on her mind: recovering enough strength and mobility to dance with her son at his wedding in March.
But Rita’s condition was far from simple—her left knee was swollen with an infection and she could barely bend her leg after multiple surgeries. The implants from her previously revised knee replacement had become loose, and past revision surgeries left her with limited bone for reconstruction, adding a layer of complexity and risk.
After a surgeon close to home declined Rita’s case, she turned to NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center. There, she met Dr. Nana Sarpong, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery specializing in adult hip and knee reconstruction and replacement, including complex and revision procedures.
Dr. Sarpong told Rita he would use all the tools at his disposal to help her get up and moving for the wedding. “From the first day I saw him, he listened,” says Rita. “And then he would call me almost every day to see how I was, which you don’t get too often.”
In December 2022, Rita underwent a three-and-a-half-hour procedure during which Dr. Sarpong elevated the soft tissue flap covering her knee, removed all loose components from the previous revision knee replacement, and cleared the area of infection. He then inserted a new re-revision knee replacement complete with a high-dose antibiotic delivery using bone cement to help prevent future infections. Rita also received antibiotics intravenously following the surgery.
The procedure required extensive surgical experience and a highly skilled hand, especially given Rita’s history of revision surgery, bone loss, and infections. “If you're going to do a revision, you have to elevate the flap very carefully or else you risk losing blood supply,” says Dr. Sarpong. “Not everyone is comfortable with that because if that flap dies, the whole leg dies.”
Rita’s surgery was a success and her knee function was restored; now, she works with a physical therapist to get stronger and continues to take antibiotics to ward off infection. Without the burden of knee pain, she can shift her focus to enjoying retirement, traveling, and playing with her grandkids, ages 2 and 4.
“She is bending her knee more now than she’s bent it in the last 20 years. She’s 0 to 90 degrees, which is a success compared to the 15 to 25 degrees she started with,” says Dr. Sarpong. “Rita’s a lot more active than she was before.”
Most importantly, she was ready to celebrate her son’s wedding that spring. Just a few months after the procedure, Rita, dressed in a black glittering gown, took the floor with her son for their special dance. Dr. Sarpong called after the wedding to offer congratulations and see how it went.
“He kept his promise and got me dancing with my kid on March 18th. It was the only thing I wanted to do,” says Rita. “I did it, and I was just so thankful to him.”