Freddie Billberry and Cynthia McGrew

Freddie Billberry and Cynthia McGrew

Cindy McGrew and Freddie Billberry became fast friends while participating in the first JOYNT program session.

Both women needed knee replacements in 2018 after seeking out OrthoIllinois for treatment. They were also told they needed to lose weight before surgery to improve their outcomes during their procedures and for the long-term.

JOYNT is a new program that combines aquatic fitness classes, nutrition education and group counseling through a partnership between OrthoIllinois, Judson University and the YMCA of Rock River Valley to help patients lose weight before undergoing total joint replacement surgery.

Ten people have completed the program since the first 12-week session began in October, and a new group of 27 people is starting in May.

Cindy’s story: ‘I felt very supported’

Back in 2014, Cindy McGrew of Roscoe tore the cartilage in her right knee getting off a lawn mower. She started treatment at OrthoIllinois, and Dr. Michael Chmell did arthroscopic surgery to fix the tear.

In early 2018, the same knee started acting up again, pain that was made worse because she worked a retail job that required her to be on her feet all day.

Cindy returned to see Dr. Chmell last summer, and he told her the knee needed to be replaced. She initially was discouraged to hear she needed to lose some weight before she could have the surgery.

“I thought, ‘Oh god, here we go.’ I knew it wasn’t a ton (of weight), but I knew I had to do it,” she said. “I had no choice – I needed my knee fixed.”

She was excited to try out the new new JOYNT program help her lose the 16 pounds.

“I thought it was very responsive and nice of a doctor’s office to take the time to set up a program to help you do what they tell you to do,” Cindy said.

Group members participated in aquatic fitness classes and discussed nutrition at the YMCA, and met with a behavioral health expert from Judson University at the school’s Y location. The camaraderie of being with the other women in the group was helpful.

“It always helps to have people with you doing the same things together,” Cindy said. “We’d talk while we were in the pool. It was tough, but it got continually better every week. I truly enjoyed the water at the Y, the people are so nice and friendly there.”

Cindy, now 64, lost the 16 pounds by the time the program ended in December. Dr. Mark Barba did her knee surgery in January and she has maintained her weight loss.

“(The program) definitely changed some of the ways I think about eating habits,” she said. “I kept telling myself I did this for 12 weeks, so this way of doing things is better for me. I felt very supported.”

Freddie’s story: ‘I’m doing so well’

Freddie Billberry’s right knee had been bothering her for about five years when she went to OrthoIllinois in 2018 for treatment. The 68-year-old Rockford resident used to walk regularly, but the pain interrupted the exercise. And she, like Cindy, had a job that required her to be on her feet a lot, which magnified the pain.

After consulting with Dr. Michael Chmell, it was recommended that Freddie lose some weight before surgery. She was interested in the JOYNT program, but she was terrified of the water associated with the aquatic fitness classes. Freddie said Cindy and the other women enrolled in the inaugural program session helped Freddie feel more comfortable.

“It got better with the other girls. I remember them saying at one point, ‘You’re even smiling,’” she recalled. “It worked out good.”

Freddie doubled her initial weight loss goal, losing 24 pounds. She attributed her success to eating smaller, more frequent daily meals – avoiding junk food and filling up on lean proteins and vegetables – and drinking plenty of water.

“I was surprised because I thought I couldn’t do it,” she recalled. “It’s the first time I’d done anything like this. Everyone was so helpful, nice and supportive.”

Dr. Mark Barba did Freddie’s surgery in February, and she’s excited to get back to regular exercise, riding her bike and generally building up her strength again.

“I’m doing so well. I can stand and wash dishes – that was a problem before. It’s just amazing. Before, I wanted to get stuff done, and my son had to help me because I was in so much pain.”