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By Karen Marie Hedlund
What research is being done into the genetic component of osteoarthritis? It’s okay, I know, if the scientists and the researchers don’t have the answer. I’ve lived without one for the majority of my life.
But I’ll step back a moment. My name is Karen Marie Hedlund, born and raised in the Midwest—still have the accent to prove it. After high school I moved to New England, but I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the United States, live in Austria, and spend a year abroad at the University of Konstanz in Germany. The key word in that sentence is HAD. Osteoarthritis pain in my knee has stopped me from being able to travel—even travel to the grocery store.
Three seconds in 1988 changed my life forever. Playing soccer in gym class in high school, one of the senior football players tripped on the grass and reached out to stabilize himself. The closest thing was me, a sophomore, 5’6” and maybe 120 pounds. We landed on my right knee, causing meniscus and cartilage tears. This began my journey of chronic pain. I now wonder if my knee was weak because it was predisposed to osteoarthritis.
To simply function, I had all kinds of treatments trying to strengthen my knee and reduce the swelling and pain. At the age of 16 I had my first knee surgery and was told I would need a knee replacement in my 40s. I had a second surgery to “clean up the knee” in 1994 after I graduated from college.
Unfortunately, nothing ever worked. Doctors prescribed both land and water physical therapy, knee braces, pain and inflammation medications. My least favorite treatment is a cortisone shot directly into the knee. Sometimes the shot works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In my 30s, doctors told me I needed to start taking calcium and vitamin D3 to help keep my bones strong. A nagging thought kept creeping into my head: My grandmother with OA was still taking calcium in her 80s. When would I receive the “official” diagnosis? I would be the 4th generation of women in my family to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis.
If doctors looked at my family history, could this have been prevented before my injury? What if as I teen I was told to take supplements to strengthen my bones? Could my injury have been prevented? Could this life of constant knee pain never have happened? But I can’t go there, because it’s not my reality.
My knee osteoarthritis was finally diagnosed in 2016 by my orthopedic surgeon. I was 44 years old. Again, I was told I would need a knee replacement—but now not for another 20 years. I knew living with this knee, my continual source of pain and frustration, would be difficult.
And it has been. Things like cooking and cleaning have had to be modified, or not done at all, because I can’t stand or kneel for any period of time without pain. It’s hard to even wear jeans because they won’t fit over my swollen, painful knee. In fact, I recently wore leggings to an appointment with my rheumatologist because I couldn’t get regular pants on over my swollen knee. The doctor took one look at me and could tell, through my leggings, that I was having a flare up. Yes, osteoarthritis is my constant companion.
Dear Scientist, now that you know my story, what advice do you have for me? Are new treatments that may help me on the way?
Sponsored by Pfizer
Dear Scientist, Osteoarthritis has debilitated four generations of my family. What does the future look like for relief?
For three decades, Karen Marie Hedlund has suffered with chronic knee pain, just like many other women in her family. In talking with Dr. Peter Park, she learns what researchers are doing to help improve the lives of so many like her.