The years Richard White spent working in shipyards were hard on his knees. His left knee in particular gave him trouble, requiring surgery about two decades ago after it locked up.
"The knee has been sensitive," he told the Herald this week. Eventually, "it got to the point where it was achy all the time."
So the 70-year-old, who lives in Benton County's Red Mountain area, opted for a knee replacement to bring some relief.
He had the surgery last fall at Kennewick General Hospital, which in 2010 debuted its special hip and knee joint replacement program.
At lunchtime today, White and about three dozen other patients who went through the program in recent months will meet for a reunion with their physicians, nurses and joint center volunteers. A stroll along the Columbia River is planned as part of the celebration.
White's wife, Eunice, who had her left hip replaced through KGH's program in January 2012, plans to attend with her husband.
She was having hip trouble and had the surgery because she didn't want to be consigned to a cane or walker the rest of her life, she said.
She noted she doesn't need the walking aids now.
The hospital has offered joint replacement surgery for years. But its new joint program -- launched in January 2010 -- provides a coordinated and comprehensive approach, from pre-surgery education to post-surgery follow-up.
The hospital has a designated area for the joint replacement patients, who stay in private rooms and are cared for by specially trained staff.
The surgeries are scheduled Mondays or Tuesdays, with patients typically ready to go home after two to three days. The patients participate in group exercise and physical therapy, which allows them to better gauge their progress.
"I think the real benefit is that they can compare and see where they should be," said Nikki Schrom, joint center manager.
The Kennewick hospital coordinates with physicians from Benton Franklin Orthopedic Associates, who perform the surgeries.
The program has led to growth in the number of joint replacements performed at KGH.
"Before we started the program we were (doing) about 91 joints a year," Schrom said.
Last year the total was about 200.
Word-of-mouth is a significant factor, Schrom said, noting patients consistently give the program positive evaluations.
She also said the hospital tracks patient progress, and the numbers reveal they're spending less time in the hospital and getting back to their lives and interests more quickly under the program.
"I'm very passionate about it. I'm really passionate about my patients and everyone doing well and getting better and getting back to their activities," Schrom told the Herald. Seeing the patients back on their feet, able to move around and enjoy life -- that's the best thing about holding reunions like the one planned today, she said.
She's expecting about 80 people, including patients, family members, physicians and joint replacement center staff and volunteers.
The Whites said they're looking forward to the event at the Richland Red Lion. "It's nice to go back," Eunice said.