Thanks to a determination to succeed and a partially reconstructed knee, a great-grandmother from Christchurch, Dorset, walked 495 kilometres of the Spanish Camino de Santiago pilgrimage way, passing other hikers from 34 different nations - and she is planning a longer pilgrimage next year.
Jo King, 77, was able to complete her Spanish pilgrimage following surgery by Orthopaedic Consultant Mr Charles Willis-Owen at BMI The Harbour Hospital in Dorset.
And now the inspirational adventurer has vowed to complete the Tangiriro Crossing in North Island, New Zealand in February and the 790-kilometre Camino Frances in Spain after Easter next year.
"I couldn't have done this walk without the surgery," she said. "With my original knee, it was far too painful and I knew I couldn't do it. I knew I needed a new knee. I'd never done this kind of long-distance walking before but I'd always wanted to walk the Camino. The operation changed everything and made it possible."
Undergoing partial knee replacement surgery
Mr Willis-Owen had carried out an Oxford partial knee replacement – a procedure which preserves some elements of a patient’s knee, such as ligaments, that are not damaged.
“The surgery is trickier to carry out than a total knee replacement, but in the right person it can be really rewarding surgery,” he said. “I was very mindful of what Jo was hoping to achieve after the surgery and I knew perfect surgery was what was needed to allow her fulfil her ambitions. I absolutely always strive to give my patients the very best knee they can have, and I knew with her determination and positive attitude she would do well!”
Following her surgery, Jo received physiotherapy at The Harbour Hospital which was a highly important part of her recovery. Senior Physiotherapist Jonathan Swan explains, “In physiotherapy we pay particular attention to the patient’s specific goals that are important to them. Although Jo had a specific goal at the end of her rehabilitation, it was important to work towards this gradually otherwise we risked inflaming the knee and slowing down her recovery.
"She worked hard on getting her range of movement and strength back before working on building up her walking. She practised by increasing her walking distance on a flat surface, and then adding weight into a backpack before walking up and down a more undulating route to aim to replicate the trail she was hiking. I am delighted that Jo achieved her goals, with physiotherapy supporting the excellent surgery done by Mr Willis-Owen."
Completing the Spanish pilgrimage
The Burgos-to-Santiago Camino route in Northern Spain had some flat stretches of countryside, but also numerous steep hills and downward slopes. Mrs King, who has also undergone a double mastectomy for breast cancer and has a stent in her heart, had set herself a 16-kilometre daily limit but at times she walked 26 kilometres, which she admitted was "slightly too much".
One of the most memorable occasions on the walk, was when she arrived at the Cruz de Ferro - the Iron Cross - where pilgrims traditionally place a stone that has a certain meaning to them. It's a symbolic gesture of ‘unburdening’ oneself.
She said," At the end of the walk, when I returned home, I was a different person in every sense, physically, psychologically, emotionally. I felt I no longer had any of the hang-ups that I'd been carrying for years from the past."
Mr Willis-Owen said that Mrs King’s feat, although unusual, was becoming more common in his patients for whom he carries out what he terms ‘high performance knee replacements’.
Mrs King chose to pay for her own operation rather than go through the NHS as the procedure would allow her to achieve her ambition in the time-span that she had intended.
“This sort of thing is extremely unusual after a total knee replacement, but a partial knee replacement can often provide better outcomes for the right patient,” he said. “Getting to know my patients and hearing what they really want to achieve, then helping them get there is the best part about my job.”