If practice does indeed make perfect, then we have two stellar orthopedic surgeons working in Grand Haven. Dr. Dirk Bakker and Dr. Rick Baszler recently completed the 1,000th Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery at North Ottawa Community Hospital. That’s an astonishing number for a hospital of our size, and even more surprising given that elective joint replacements were not being performed in the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I used the Mako System in surgery for the first time on April 9, 2018,” Dr. Baszler recalls. “As soon as I started using this system, I switched 100% of my joint replacement surgeries to it because the results are so much better.”

Dr. Bakker reached the 1,000 case milestone on March 23 of this year, and he says he wouldn’t go back to the old way either. “This tool makes me an even better surgeon,” he observes. “I did very good knee replacements before, but my numbers, and those nationally, said that about 20-25% of patients were not in love with their new knee. A knee is a complicated joint, and in a traditional knee replacement surgery you are eyeballing and guessing to a certain degree. With Mako, we’re finding that number of less-than-thrilled patients has decreased significantly. I’d say we’re getting thoroughly happy people in the high 90% range.  We pushed hard to get this technology at North Ottawa, and the number of people coming here for their joint replacements proves that it was the right choice.”

Dr. Baszler agrees. “I don’t ever want to hear that a new joint is not working right,” he says.  “The precision of Mako, along with the ability to plan the whole surgery in 3D before I make the first cut, means I can personalize the joint down to half a millimeter.  Each person is different, so even the tension of one person’s ligaments may be different than another person’s.  It’s exciting for me to try and get it perfectly right.”

How did we reach 1,000 cases so quickly?  That’s one of the benefits of having advanced technology in a smaller hospital.  “Dr. Bakker and I spend about 60% of our time at NOCHS,” says Dr. Baszler,  “and the Mako System is available for all of our surgeries.”

Better outcomes also contribute to more demand.  “People are starting to understand that a robotic-arm assisted surgery provides a better fit and faster healing, especially when it comes to knee replacements,” Dr. Baszler observes.  “The range of motion that patients used to have by three months post-op is now apparent at the 2-3 week mark.  It’s much less of a struggle to regain what feels like natural knee movement.  The faster recovery, combined with less pain and better outcomes, is motivating people to stop procrastinating and get their knees replaced.

Thanks to the investment this community made in Mako, we can do things at our hospital that people in bigger hospitals can’t do.  We’re attracting patients from all over the lakeshore area who want this specific type of procedure. Dr. Baszler says, “When you combine the Mako System with our private rooms, good food, fantastic staff and easy access, North Ottawa is kind of like a joint replacement camp. People who come here constantly comment on the great experience they have. They’re getting big hospital quality with community hospital personal service.”

So what’s on the horizon for robotic-assisted surgery?  Dr. Bakker is hoping he can use it for more types of procedures.  “The Mako System is a big help on hip replacements, but knee replacements outnumber hip replacements 3:1 in terms of frequency.  The robotic-arm assistance for hip replacements is going to continue to improve.  We just installed a new program to help us figure out impingement on hip replacements.  By simulating range of motion with this program, we can significantly lower one of the most common complications for hip replacement patients, which is dislocation.  I also think we will start to see the Mako System applied to shoulder replacements.  That precision, combined with pre-surgical 3D modeling, means we’re not just eyeballing things anymore.”

Both surgeons agree that Mako is more than marketing hype.  “This system is actually helping us achieve substantially better results,” Dr. Bakker asserts.  “We have invested in cutting edge technology here.  It’s amazing for a small town to have this level of quality resources available.”

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