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patient success story

Bill Davis is the only NCAA umpire to undergo a double knee replacement
- And return to work the College World Series

Most people who undergo knee replacement surgery are happy if they are able to climb the stairs or walk the golf course afterwards. Only one has gone on to call balls and strikes in the College World Series. And that was after not one, but two knee replacements.

His name is Bill Davis, and this is his story.

The first time Davis remembers injuring a knee was in early 1966, when he was a freshman at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau. "My best friend and I were in a pick up game of basketball when it happened," he recalls.

Back then, the options available to a young, injured athlete were limited. And Davis didn't want to take chances. So he made an appointment in his hometown of St. Louis with a doctor he felt would know something about banged-up knees: Dr. Stan London, then the physician for the St. Louis Cardinals. Dr. London put his left leg in a cast, and there it stayed for three months. It was better - for a while.

Over the next 10 years, Davis had knee problems on and off while playing amateur baseball and pursuing a career as a physical education teacher in the St. Louis public schools. As his own baseball career wound down, he kept himself in the game by working as a college baseball umpire.

He's now been an umpire for more than 30 years, working in the NCAA Division I for more than 20 years - and for a brief period - in the majors, where he once called San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds out on strikes. Today Davis is a regular umpire in the Big 12 Conference, which includes the University of Missouri, among others.

"People assume my knee problems are due to all that squatting behind the plate," said Davis. "But to be honest, it was the short sprints that you must make during plays that were much tougher on me." An umpire must sprint 120 to 150 feet, a dozen or more times a game, he explained.

Even more detrimental to his knees over the years, he said, was the daily pounding they took when he taught P.E., a position he retired from in 2002 after 32 years. "I was exercising with every class every day," he recalls. "That was tough on them."

So tough, in fact, that over a 25-year period, he had two arthroscopic surgeries and 12 cortisone shots in his left knee, and four cortisone shots and one surgery on his right. Each offered only temporary relief.

"I'd always asked my doctors how I'd know if I needed a knee replacement," said Davis. "And they all told me, 'You'll know.'"

By 2003, Davis knew. "I knew it the day that cutting the grass became pure agony," he recalled. "A job that had always taken no than an hour and a half was now taking four hours, and I was in pain every minute of it."

"I always do my research, and I always pick the best doctor for the job"

Orthopedic surgeons typically recommend that patients with two bad knees undergo one knee replacement surgery at a time. But Davis was not a typical patient.

"I had done my research, and determined that I was not about to go through rehab twice," Davis said. Besides, Davis knew he would be the kind of patient orthopedic surgeons dream about.

What made him such a great patient? First, he was 56 years of age, which meant he was 10 years younger than the average person seeking a knee replacement. Other than his knees, he was in good physical condition. And with the next baseball season ahead of him, he was particularly motivated to complete his rehab.

Davis also had something else going for him: he is a stickler for detail. After learning everything he could about knee replacement surgery, he immersed himself in research that would help him identify the surgeon he wanted to perform it. It was a mindset not unlike that which he had when he had called Dr. Stan London almost 40 years earlier.

"I always do my research, and I always pick the best," said Davis. "I wanted this surgery done by a specialist. I learned that Dr. Joseph Williams performed 300 of these surgeries a year. You know he's doing that many for a reason."

Joseph Williams, M.D., is Medical Director and Founder of the Bone and Joint Institute in St. Louis. In practice since 1978, he specializes in the treatment of knee and hip problems, arthroscopic knee surgery, and hip and knee replacements. And yes, he does indeed perform more than 300 joint replacement surgeries a year.

Still, when Davis scheduled an appointment with Dr. Williams, he had lots of questions. But one in particular was foremost in his mind. "I asked him if he was sure I'd still be able to umpire when he was finished," recalled Davis. "He gave me the confidence that I was looking for."

Deep down, Davis knew he wanted to do more than just umpire. He wanted to work the College World Series at least one more time.

A dream come true

Davis scheduled his double knee replacement for the afternoon of Tuesday, August 7, 2003 which, by his own figuring, would give him a little more than six months to prepare for the 2004 college baseball season. He was admitted to the hospital that morning.

Bill Davis had minimally invasive surgery of his bilateral knees and the prostheses' used are called "Vanguards." In an effort to injure the least amount of muscles and tissue possible, and to obtain the best quality outcome along with ease of rehabilitation Dr. Williams used the minimally invasive approach. Mr. Davis also followed the rapid recovery program as instructed by Dr. Williams.

More information regarding the rapid recovery program can be obtained on the website

Mr. Davis underwent physical therapy prior to his surgery as outlined in the "my rapid recovery" program. By doing so he strengthened his quadriceps muscles which prepared him well for the surgery. As a result of this prior strengthening Mr. Davis had a "rapid Recovery." Mr. Davis used the website to obtain information and educate himself on what he needed to know about before, during and after surgery. He also underwent some educational seminars with the physical therapist before his surgery. Mr. Davis prepared himself physically and mentally before the surgery much as an athlete does for his particular sport.

Mr. Davis underwent the surgery without blood transfusions and a short stay in the hospital. Dr. Williams prescribed excellent pain control after the surgery and an early rehabilitation program. By using the latest technique for pain control, which is referred to as "multi-modalities," there were very few complications and virtually no side effects with the pain control drugs prescribed. This allowed Mr. Davis to walk on his feet soon after surgery and begin rehabilitation, despite having both knees operated on at the same time.

The new minimally invasive surgery techniques of the knees allowed very little damage to the muscles, a more rapid recovery and less pain.

By late Friday afternoon, Davis was home again, where he was greeted by a passive motion machine that had been delivered earlier in the day. "It was basically a machine that bends your knee to increase your flexibility and range of motion," he explained. Following surgery, Dr. Williams had instructed Davis to spend a minimum of an hour a day per knee on the machine.

"He said an hour a day minimum," said Davis. "I decided to double the amount." Within four days, Davis was able to bend his knees 118 degrees. To understand what a feat that was, consider this: a person with "normal" knees has a typical range of motion of about 0-130 degrees.

The home health worker who visited Davis three times a week was impressed. After three weeks, he told Davis he was the only person in his 26 years in the business who he wouldn't recommend for outpatient therapy. He didn't need it.

That's because Davis was already doing the necessary exercise. Just three weeks after surgery, he was walking in a swimming pool for 45 minutes a day, every other day. Eleven weeks after surgery, he began running sprints in the pool. "I would run 90 20-meter sprints in 43 minutes," Davis recalled.

By the time Opening Day rolled around on Feb. 22, 2004, Davis was ready. "I was not 100 percent," he said. "But by May, I was running at full speed with no pain." A year later, he achieved his ultimate goal: his third trip to the College World Series.

Davis, today 59, spends most of the off-season with his wife in Peoria, Arizona. Does he have any second thoughts on his double knee replacement?

"There's no question: it was the right decision. And if I had the decision to make over again, I'd have Dr. Joe Williams do it. He gave me my knees back."