Valentine's Day in a hospital? No problem

UCI Health makes hospital room home for knee replacement patients

February 14, 2014

Most wives might not be thrilled to spend Valentine’s Day in the hospital. Not Theresa Bonvino. She can simply look across her room in the UC Irvine Douglas Hospital orthopaedics unit and see Anthony, her groom of 64 years, in the next bed.

Tony and Theresa – everyone calls her Nita – each decided it was time to have a severely arthritic and painful knee replaced. UCI Health orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Ran Schwarzkopf performed the back-to-back, his-and-her joint replacement surgeries on Feb. 13. And he suggested that one of the hospital’s few double rooms be reserved for the couple, both of whom are in their 80s.

Hours after the operations, the Bonvinos are in their third floor room, nicknamed the “Honeymoon Suite” and the “Love Shack,” surrounded by their three daughters, two sons-in-law, and lots of Valentine’s Day decorations hung by the hospital staff to welcome the family. They receive periodic phone calls from their two sons and grandchildren.

It’s not long before a physical therapist comes by and gets Tony and Nita on their feet. Schwarzkopf wants his patients moving as soon as possible.

“We place a high priority on getting them out of bed and walking on the day of surgery,” Schwarzkopf says. “Some patients receive not only one but two full physical therapy sessions the day of surgery. This aggressive plan helps patients recover quickly and get back to their normal level of activity.”

The competition is on as Nita walks 30 feet down the hall while her husband manages 12 feet. The range of motion in her new knee is greater, too – 98 degrees to Tony’s 92 degrees. Additional therapy during the hospital stay should close that gap.

She says her knee feels better than it has in years.

“We are so impressed with Dr. Schwarzkopf,” Nita says.

Nancy, Tony and Nita’s middle daughter, agrees.

“We thought my parents would have to go to a rehabilitation center,” she says. “Dr. Schwarzkopf told us his knees – he called them that, ‘his knees’ – could go right home. He said my parents wouldn’t need a rehab center when they left the hospital.”

Oldest daughter Mary Ann and her husband Al Moschner are visiting from Chicago and will stay a month to care for her parents while they recover.

“The care and concern everyone here has shown is wonderful,” says Mary Ann.

Why replace the joints now? Al expects the couple to sail past 90 and hit 100 years old. The question was simple, he says.

“Do you want to live the next 15 years of your lives with these bad knees?”

Apparently not, as Tony says he has a few more years of tennis left. He’s played for 70 years and is fond of alluding to the two U.S. Tennis Association amateur championships he’s won while competing in seniors divisions. For years he says he played younger men in tournaments because “no one my age could keep up.”

He smiles, confident that Schwarzkopf’s precision joint replacement will give him additional time on the court.

The Bonvinos are snowbirds, seasonal refugees from tiny Ilion, an upstate New York village halfway between Syracuse and Albany where the Valentine’s Day temperature soared to 20 degrees at noon and snow drifts up toward the windowsill. They’ve been coming west for 20 years, living in a Signal Hill condo, close to three of their five children (and warm-weather tennis courts).

Tony jokingly suggests they receive a two-for-one discount on joint replacement. Nancy points out that a frequent flier discount might be more appropriate: the Bonvinos are no strangers to UCI Health.

Last summer, Dr. Michael Stamos, chairman of the UCI Health Department of Surgery, successfully treated Tony for colon cancer. A surgeon Tony and Nita’s son Nick knows in Dallas referred him to Stamos, who is also the president of the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons.

“Everybody knows him; he’s the best,” Tony says. Nancy calls him part of the family now.

Tony marvels at the minimally invasive surgery Stamos performed. Though 18 inches of colon needed to be removed, the only visible evidence of the laparoscopic surgery is several small incisions at his belt line.

“I was back on the tennis court in no time,” Tony says, comparing his procedure to that of a friend from Spain whose surgeon left him with a scar that spans his abdomen and runs down his chest to below the belly button. “It took him forever to recover.”

“The staff here was wonderful,” Nancy says. “The night shift was as equally great and attentive as the day staff.”

Tony and Nita’s first night in the hospital looks like a family reunion (and, a daughter points out, Bonvino means “good wine,” even though opening a bottle together will have to await a few more days).

And no one actually says anything. Instead, they gesture, they rave, they laugh. Surrounded by balloons, pink and red Valentine’s Day-themed hearts and M&M’s dispensers, and a couple of Teddy bears doubling as Cupids provided by the hospital staff, the Bonvinos make their corner of UC Irvine Medical Center a little bit of home for a few days.

“Having family around,” says Nita, “is the best medicine.”