Paul Shaver - Knee Replacements

Paul Shaver is a global traveler. For years, the Des Peres resident has trekked to far off locations such as Antarctica, Greenland, and Siberia. “I’ve been to all seven continents and visited about 58 countries,” he says.

Shaver, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an electronics manufacturing entrepreneur, founded two companies in New York before moving to St. Louis in 1988. The travel bug, he says, bit him while flying internationally for business.

He looked forward to retirement and more exotic travel. His knees, however, began to lose stability and he struggled to mow his half-acre yard and walk down the stairs. “The knees were wearing out,” he says. “They started to give me problems when I was about 55 years old, but I put off doing anything about them because I was too busy. I didn’t want to give up my active lifestyle.”

Active is an understatement. Shaver has hiked glaciers and polar tundra and visited Ushuaia, Argentina, considered the southern-most city in the world. He’s been surrounded by thousands of penguins, been within yards of large polar bears, and walked the slippery and rocky shores of multiple continents, all in a quest to see nature and indigenous populations up close. “The trips were becoming a burden because the knees would give out, even when I was just walking around in cities,” he recalls. “I thought I wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities to see more things, so I had to do something about it.”

Almost seven years after he retired, Shaver came to Washington University School of Medicine, where orthopedic specialists diagnosed him with osteoarthritis in both knees. Total joint replacement was recommended. In 2010, Shaver had first one and then the other knee replaced over a span of three months.

“My recovery was remarkable and fast,” Shaver says. “I never needed a walker and stopped using a cane about a week after each surgery. After two weeks, stiffness and pain were minimal and I had good flexibility.

He credits his rapid recovery to keeping in shape and exercising prior to undergoing surgery. His surgeon, Robert Barrack, MD, the Charles and Joanne Knight Distinguished  Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, also credits innovative pre-and post-operative interventions that minimize pain and discomfort while also accelerating recovery.

“Patients receive optimal doses of medications before surgery to minimize pain, nausea and inflammation,” Barrack says. “We then use specialized anesthesia techniques and injections into the knee tissues and joint at the time of surgery itself to further minimize pain and inflammation. We also use mobile compression devices after surgery to minimize the use of anticoagulants, which sometimes can cause problems. We’ve consistently been an area leader in introducing these interventions, all of which improve patient outcomes for total joint replacement.”

Since his two knee replacements in 2010, Shaver, sometimes accompanied by his wife, has been to Paris, Amsterdam, and South Africa. He also embarked on another snow-packed trip to Greenland and Iceland, first stopping in Longyearbyen on Spitzbergen Island, halfway between Norway and the North Pole. “I thought, I’ve visited the world’s southernmost city, why not visit the northernmost city, too?” he says with a laugh.

On the calendar in 2014, is a month-long trip that is scheduled to reach south of the Antarctic Circle. “None of my trips require heroic physical ability,” Shaver notes. “But it sure helps to have reasonable flexibility and good balance to get in and out of rubber boats, walk slippery shorelines, hike up and down hills, and to go up and down steep stairways on an expedition ship.

“I can do everything I used to do when I was 21,” he says about his new replacement knees. “I don’t think or worry about my knees anymore. Instead, I think about what trip I’ll be planning next.”

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