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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Jim Thornhill walks with his wife Karen Thornhill at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. Jim had a partial knee replacement using a new technology called MAKOplasty. This surgery utilizes a surgeon-guided robot, allowing the surgeon to be more precise.

SALT LAKE CITY — The latest technology for a joint replacement has arrived in Salt Lake City. An orthopedic surgeon performed the first knee replacement with the new robotic system last week.

The patient who received the cutting-edge surgery is Jim Thornhill.

"(I) got up and started to walk. It was pretty remarkable," Thornhill said.

He was walking the halls at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center 48 hours after knee replacement surgery. The 73-year-old avid golfer is eager to get a lot more mileage out of it.

Prior to surgery, pain was altering Thornhill's life. He was wary of collapsing on the knee and says he altered his swing in his beloved game of golf.

"It was becoming more painful as the days were going on, and weeks," Thornhill said. "So it was getting to the point where I knew I had to have something done. I had no choice."

At the Center for Precision Joint Replacement, Dr. Jeremy McCandless gave Thornhill the state's first knee replacement using the MAKO Rio robot.

With the robot, the doctor creates a three-dimensional surgery plan ahead of time and then goes into the operating room and executes that plan.

"The robot is a tool that we use in surgery," McCandless said. "We're in surgery with the tool, but the robot knows what we want to do and doesn't let us make a bad move."

"We typically take off a quarter-inch of bone on all the surfaces and cap the top and the bottom, just like a dentist would put a crown on a tooth," explained orthopedic surgeon Dr. Aaron Hofmann.

"It's a very natural-feeling movement when you get used to it," McCandless said.

He said the precision of the robot means less pain medication and quicker recovery for the patient.

"Everyone I do, I have walk the day of surgery," McCandless said. "And you can't say he has no pain, because he has pain; but it's how far and how much pain medication. And Jim is just blowing everyone else away."

"A robot takes you to the next level," Hofmann said. "There's nobody that is as good and precise as something that can be done by a computer or something that can be done by a robot."

According to the hospital website, as with a total knee replacement procedure, MAKOplasty helps to relieve associated knee pain and restore knee function. Unlike the total knee replacement procedure, patients may also benefit from:

Quicker relief from knee pain

Improved surgical outcomes

Quicker recovery, from months to weeks

Smaller incision, less scarring

Less blood loss during surgery

Shorter hospital stays

A more natural knee following surgery

As he left the hospital with his wife, Thornhill was eager to hit the links again.

"Now I'm very confident that I'll be able to go right back and adjust my swing and shoot a better score," he said.

The Center for Precision Joint Replacement was Hofmann's brainchild. Soon surgeons will also perform hip replacements.

e-mail: jboal@desnews.com