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Former NFL standout enjoying an active life after knee replacement surgery

Like many other former professional football players, Leo Wisniewski has accrued his share of battle scars from life in the NFL’s trenches. During his four-year career as a defensive lineman with the Baltimore (then Indianapolis) Colts, Leo suffered dislocated fingers and shoulder and neck injuries. But nothing took a greater toll on Leo than his knee injuries.

“I missed the final two games of the 1984 season with an ACL injury and eventually had an ACL reconstruction in August 1985,” recalls Leo, a 6’1”, 263 pound starter for his first three seasons. “I spent the ‘85 season on the injured reserve and tried to come back for the ’86 season. However, I couldn’t pass the physical. And so, I finally had to retire at the ripe old age of 26.”

Leo went on to coach football at schools such as Geneva College, Waynesburg University and Canon-McMillan High School. But it was his lingering knee injuries that threatened to sideline him once again.

“I was starting to suffer from the effects of osteoarthritis in my knees,” said Leo. “I no longer had a buffer between the tibia and the femur head. That caused grinding in my knees and a lot of pain. It also made it very difficult to get around on the football field. That’s when I decided to have knee replacement surgery.”

Leo and his wife Cindy, a nurse, did some research and then met with several surgeons who specialized in knee replacement surgery. They immediately felt a connection with Donald Ravasio, DO, an orthopaedic surgeon who had just joined Canonsburg Hospital.

“Dr. Ravasio appealed to us because he had experience performing bi-lateral knee replacements,” said Leo, who is now 55. “He told me I was an excellent candidate for this procedure because I was in good physical condition.

Dr. Ravasio said that bi-lateral knee replacement offered several advantages for Leo. “Because both knees could be replaced during the same surgery, Leo would only have to undergo anesthesia once,” Dr. Ravasio pointed out. “Also, Leo would be able to rehab both knees during a single rehabilitation period. That would help to reduce his overall recovery time.”

Leo decided that bilateral knee replacement was his best option and had surgery on August 18, 2014. During the procedure, Dr. Ravasio shaved off the arthritic surfaces from each of Leo’s knee joints and replaced them with implants made of chrome, titanium and plastic. Surgery went extremely well and Leo was able to start physical and occupational therapy during his seven-day stay at Canonsburg Hospital.

“My wife and I were extremely impressed with Dr. Ravasio and his team at Canonsburg Hospital,” said Leo. “The staff made sure I was comfortable and they were happy to answer all of our questions.”

Since having surgery, Leo has regained most of his strength and mobility. He no longer needs a cane and is able to walk for an hour without any pain. “I still have a little ways to go to make a full recovery and I’ve set a goal to achieve that by working even harder in the gym,” he said.

Leo has also returned to work full-time as director of Locking Arms Men, a non-profit that provides ministry services for men in the Pittsburgh area, and he hopes to resume coaching football in the near future. In addition, Leo and Cindy are looking forward to attending games to watch their son, Stefen, play pro football. Stefen, an offensive lineman with the Oakland Raiders, is entering free agency this spring.

For patients who are considering bilateral knee replacement, Leo Wisniewski proves that this procedure can work wonders.

“If you have chronic knee pain that is affecting your quality of life, then don’t hold off,” said Leo, who resides with his wife in South Fayette. “First, find an orthopaedic surgeon who has a good track record and who will walk you through the entire process. Then ask yourself if you can handle some of the pain that you’ll feel after surgery and if you will be faithful with rehab. If you can say yes to all these questions, then I think you should have knee replacement surgery. It definitely has improved my quality of life.”

Allegheny Health Network offers knee replacement surgery at several locations in the Pittsburgh area. To schedule an appointment with one of our joint replacement specialists, call 412.DOCTORS (412.362.8677).