When he was 12, Soren West hiked 67 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Two years later, he wanted to hike the entire trail but it didn’t happen. Soon life took over and it wasn’t until he approached 65 that the idea surfaced again. It took 10 more years to make it happen. Soren hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with his 8-year-old Golden Retriever, Theo, from February 21, 2016 to October 27, 2016.
He knew well in advance that he would have to prepare for such an undertaking so he and Theo began hiking in Vermont and Pennsylvania in 2010 covering more than 400 miles trying out gear, food supply and themselves. Naproxen morning and night helped curb his knee pain.
On a hike in Pennsylvania, his left knee pain was so bad he had to back down the mountain. It was painful climbing over obstacles in the trail. There would be no thru-hike if he didn’t get his knee fixed.
A Home Run
His surgeon recommended a total knee replacement but Soren declined. He first tore the meniscus in his left medial compartment in 1963. He had surgery in 1964 and again in 1978. For years he had been active playing tennis, squash, racquetball and doing what he called his “bolt walk” with Theo – four miles in 55 minutes up four hills. Soren reasoned that he had long been active with little to no cartilage in his medial compartment and he could see on x-rays that there was still some cartilage left in the lateral compartment – let’s just address that one compartment.
Soren had read about the robot-assisted surgery known as MAKOplasty and unicompartmental replacement. He asked his surgeon to help him locate the most experienced physician doing this work. His surgeon said he would be taking a course the next day in MAKOplasty and the company representative would know who was the most experienced in the area. The answer came back: Jess Lonner, MD, orthopedic surgeon with the Rothman Institute at Bryn Mawr Hospital, part of Main Line Health. Dr. Lonner was the first in the area to do the procedure and had done more than anyone else. “I needed to look no further,” Soren said. Besides, it would take six months to recover from a total knee but only three to recover from a partial knee replacement. The search was over.
In spring 2014, West traveled to Bryn Mawr for an appointment and consultation.
“Dr. Lonner looked very closely at my x-rays, at my knee. He told me everything that I needed to know about the surgery and the recovery process, and I was immediately comfortable with my decision.”
“Soren was ideally suited for a partial knee replacement, with advanced arthritis that only affected one part of his knee,” says Dr. Lonner. “Coupled with this less invasive surgery and our rapid recovery protocols, his remarkable fitness level and motivation were instrumental in allowing him to return to a high level of activity in relatively short order. I knew, when I first met Soren, that he would really benefit from partial knee replacement surgery. I had no idea what he had in mind, but I couldn't be more pleased that he was able to fulfill a lifelong dream after surgery.”
In May 2014, West underwent a partial knee replacement. On the day of his surgery, the Bryn Mawr Hospital team took West through a series of exercises –including walking up and down the stairs and using light weights—before he was given clearance to return home.
“It was very good service. I had no serious pain or complications, and I was able to recover pretty quickly from the surgery,” says West.
It gave him more time to focus on his goal for more than 60 years: to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Returning to the Trail
In August—only three months after his surgery—West departed on a 70-mile hike with a 30-pound backpack in tow. He was pleased to report that he felt no pain in his knee.
With a trial hike under his belt, on February 21, 2016 West departed from Amicalola Falls Georgia for Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Over the course of the next eight months, West hiked 2,189.1 miles with his dog, Theo. Through it all, says West, he was pain-free.
“I had no pain during a 2,000-mile hike. That is amazing to me,” he says. “I fell a couple of times with my leg tucked under me. My leg muscles were strained but I had absolutely no knee pain.”
And for that, West thanks Dr. Lonner and his care team.
“Dr. Lonner enabled me to fulfill a lifelong dream. I was the oldest person to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2016. I couldn’t have done it without my family—but I also couldn’t have done it without Dr. Lonner.”