Dan Kelly, a 71-year-old retired firefighter, walking within an hour of his second hip replacement surgery, thanks to a new pilot project aimed at shortening recovery time. (Courtesy of Island Health)

New Island Health surgical program may be used to address COVID-19 surgery backlog

Pilot project speeds up joint replacement recovery time

Island Health surgical patients are recovering faster and easier thanks to a pilot project to reduce post-procedure side effects.

The health authority’s new program, the Victoria Enhanced Recovery Arthroplasty Program (VERA) is modelled after similar programs in Eastern Canada and replaces spinal anesthetic with sedation and an epidural, which puts freezing outside of the spinal fluid and into “epidural space.”

Anaesthetist Dr. Jacques Smit said that adjustment fast tracks recovery time.

“We can get these patients mobilized much faster because that residual weakness the spinal anesthesia used to cause … prevents patients from walking wears off extremely quickly – within half an hour after the surgery.”

New VERA protocols also include modifications to surgical techniques, sutures and dressings. All in all, the program makes surgery a far shorter and less impactful process, according to Island Health. The program may be used to address a surgery backlog created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Duncan Jacks said the new protocols have reduced nausea, vomiting, dizziness and pain for patients. He points to patient Dan Kelly, a 71-year-old retired firefighter, who was able to walk right after hip replacement surgery at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

“As soon as the epidural was turned off, Dan’s motor function returned almost immediately and that enabled him to get up and walking within an hour of surgery,” Jacks said, adding that VERA protocols help to eliminate the risk of hip dislocation too.

“Dan was able to move around without worrying about his hip dislocating in any particular position. That really removed some of the anxiety in the post-operative period and allowed him to get home a lot quicker and recover faster in the first few weeks.”

So far, eight patients have participated in the VERA project, each one of them returning home on the same day as their surgeries.

“The morning after surgery I woke up at home and it was like I hadn’t had an operation. I walked out to my deck, sat and had a coffee, didn’t feel anything and didn’t need a cane. It was amazing,” Kelly said.

RELATED: Langford boy wakes up from surgery to find stuffed puppy wearing the same cast

RELATED: B.C. catching up on COVID-19 scheduled surgery backlog

Island Health plans to extend the program to more patients, likely in the fall.

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