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Heart of Gold — Knees of Steele

Three decades of firefighting duties took a heavy toll on Mark Steele's knees. As a 29-year veteran of the City of Hollywood Fire Rescue Department, the Division Chief has worked closely with hospitals across South Florida. So when his knees finally gave out, he knew exactly who he could trust – Memorial.

By age 49, several years after ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) replacement, Mark had developed degenerative arthritis in both knees. Cortisone and other injections no longer relieved the constant aches.

"My posture was changing to compensate for the pain. My legs started to bow, as if I rode a horse all day. I was wearing through shoes at awkward angles," he says.

The osteoarthritis had completely worn away the cartilage protecting the knees. "I couldn't sneak up on anyone because of the clicking of bone on bone," Mark says. "Every morning was a greater struggle to get out of bed."

Life and Limbs

Mark's trust in Memorial Healthcare System began long before he needed them. He had worked with Memorial's emergency medical services for years, and his daughter, Jordyne, is a paramedic at Memorial Regional Hospital South. Nonetheless, Mark was apprehensive about major surgery until he met with Johannes Blom, MD, an orthopedic surgeon on the staff of Memorial Regional Hospital South.

"Dr. Blom's tremendous confidence convinced me I could get back to 100 percent with a new set of knees. He took time to explain every aspect of the procedure and a timeline for recovery. And he introduced a level of respect I later experienced from every single person affiliated with Memorial."

So Mark kicked off the first week of 2012 with a five-hour procedure for bilateral knee replacement, opting to overhaul both knees at the same time. After four days in the fourth-floor orthopedic procedures unit at Memorial Regional Hospital South he moved to the fifth-floor inpatient rehabilitation unit.

Heavy Mettle

"Two hours after surgery, a physical therapist had me up and going. Their enthusiasm and motivation is phenomenal. Throughout my entire rehab experience, there was never the option of 'Oh, no. I can't do it today,' the response is 'Yes, you can... and yes, you will!' and then you do."

"We have a sign that reads, 'Can't is not a word in this gym!' " says Becky Boyle, Rehab Manager at the Rehabilitation Institute of South Florida. "Mark and his therapist clicked immediately and were challenging each other to push farther."

Mark underestimated the value of occupational therapy before he began his treatment sessions. Having been a firefighter and paramedic training instructor for a quarter-century, the roles were reversed when he was forced to relearn such everyday motions as how to walk and get in and out of an automobile. "You've got to let the therapists show you how to do things you never imagined," he says. "It is truly humbling."

Two months after surgery, Mark's healing is well ahead of schedule. He is biking and swimming and expects to be back to 100 percent in just a couple more weeks.

"It is so important to have this program and these people devoted strictly to orthopedics and rehab in the same place," Mark says.

His advice for anyone preparing for knee replacement: "Get your upper body in shape. Get ready for a huge amount of work, and be nice to people. You're going to need a lot of support."

And if he didn't already believe in karma, not a month after Mark was back on his feet, daughter Jordyne tore her ACL, and embarked on her own road to recovery after surgery at Memorial Regional Hospital South.

"Bad knees aside, we're lucky," he said. Memorial definitely runs in the family."


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