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Jim NickelsBrookville fire chief ‘retires’ his knee.

Firefighter James Nickel wasn’t about to let a bum knee stop him from doing the job he loves – not during his tour of duty in the Navy, not during his 12 years with the West Carrollton squad and not as Brookville fire chief, a position he has held since 1987.

Jim, 62, who now lives in Brookville with his wife, Connie, first hurt his left knee before he deployed to Vietnam. The real blow, however, came in 1976 when he seriously injured his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), one of the knee’s four major ligaments. Firefighters must follow strict physical fitness standards, including no prosthetic devices.

Maintenance for Extra Mileage

Dr. Dennis Brown displays the ceramic knee for active patients.

Because Jim did not want it to be necessary to retire, he avoided getting a knee replacement as long as he could. About 12 years ago, he went to see orthopedic surgeon Dennis Brown, MD.   “I told him he had to make my knee last until it was time for me to retire – and he did,” Jim reports.

After several arthroscopic procedures over the years to clean up cartilage, in January 2011, Dr. Brown told Jim it was time: He simply had to have his knee totally replaced.

Jim had surgery March 18. “Everyone at good Samaritan Hospital – the instructors in my pre-surgery education class, registration folks, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and, of course Dr. Brown himself – were wonderful,” Jim said. “I can’t say enough great things about them.”

A New Knee for the Long Haul

Jim relied on Dr. Brown to recommend the best knee for him. “Depending on the patient’s anatomy, range of motion, extent of injury and lifestyle, there are many different types of knee prostheses to choose from. For Jim, we decided on a relatively new ceramic knee that is designed for active individuals and engineered to last as long as 30 years,” explains Dr. Brown, who just happens to have the very same prosthetic knee himself.

After spending a couple days in the hospital, where he had both physical therapy and occupational therapy (to practice going up and down stairs, for example), Jim was discharged and continued his physical therapy at home for six weeks. “The rehab process is extremely important to recovering strength and range of motion,” notes Dr. Brown.

A Man in Motion

“Before the surgery,” said Jim, “I was always aware of my knee, what I could and couldn’t do, and how to position myself so it wouldn’t hurt or give out on me. But now, it’s fixed! I find myself doing things and then realizing, ‘Hey, I just did that without thinking about my knee!’” even as department chief, Jim still fights fires and also leads a rigorous training program for his department. He has taken up fishing again and is looking forward to hunting season.

“Thanks to Dr. Brown and the good Samaritan team,” Jim said, “I made it as an active firefighter until I was ready to retire by choice, not by necessity. That day will be March 30, 2012.

And as much as I admire Dr. Dennis Brown, I’m looking forward to not seeing him again!”

Content Updated: December 5, 2014

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