CHICAGO — Dr. Richard A. Berger, 55, is the only surgeon in the world to perform over 10,000 minimally invasive outpatient joint replacement surgeries.
From a young age, Berger was interested in helping others enjoy a life of mobility, free of limitations. Growing up, his father constructed the Macy’s holiday window displays in New York City. Berger observed his creations of complicated gears and motors that brought the display objects to life. Subsequently, he developed a fascination with human motion, sparking his enthusiasm to replicate joint movement.
“I studied the mechanics involved and was determined to help people who couldn’t move right, move normally again,” said Berger.
Fast-forward to the winter of 2018. Berger performed his 10,000th minimally invasive outpatient joint replacement surgery. His muscle preserving anterior hip replacement and knee replacement surgeries are performed with the tools he personally created. These instruments allow him to replace the joint without cutting the muscles, tendons and ligaments, all the while working through a three to five inch incision. By sparing the damage of these structures, patients have minimal pain and function almost immediately.
“Anytime you reach a milestone, you get a chance to stop and reflect on what has occurred. If you told me 19 years ago that I would perform 10,000 minimally invasive outpatient procedures, I would think you were crazy. It’s amazing that we started doing this at all,” said Berger.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University graduate performed his first minimally invasive outpatient joint replacement surgery in 2001.
“When I started operating, I knew that step one was to develop a minimally invasive surgery, so patients had less pain. Step two was to change the entire system to revolve around the patient. From the pre-operative expectations, to the post-operative regiment, by having patients go home the same day of surgery, then walk pain free and unassisted. We completely changed the outlook of orthopedic surgery,” said Berger.
In the early 2000s, the average patient hospital stay — following a joint replacement — was 5-7 days in length. Meanwhile, Berger was already performing outpatient surgeries. Over the years, he and his team developed enhancements for his technique and instrumentation to make the process even more seamless for the patient to go home, recover faster and be with their loved ones.
By 2006 Berger made, yet another, astronomical impact on the world of orthopedic surgery, when he partnered with Zimmer Inc. to design the first high-flex knee replacement implant, shaped specifically to fit a woman’s anatomy.
Women make up more than two-thirds of the knee replacement population and require a device with a precise fit for a natural feel. The knee of a woman is not simply smaller than a man’s, there are also differences in the muscles, tendons and ligaments. This high-flex knee has a particular thin and narrow shape, which proportionately contours to the entire bone and accommodates high flexion necessary for a variety of physical activities.
Apart from the superlative tools and specific prosthesis Berger has pioneered, the seasoned surgeon has an innate talent that influences the outlook of patients, and other medical professionals from around the country. The orthopedic surgeons previously involved with the fellowship program at Rush University Medical Center, recall studying under Berger and observing his operative techniques. Now having opened their own practices, they continue to reference Berger’s unique skill and capabilities, stating that he understands the joint and how it works on another level. When you combine this with his unparalleled approach, the results are incomparable.
“Dr. Berger’s patients see his best side and have benefited from his caring as well as his surgical skills,” said Larry J. Goodman, MD, CEO of Rush University Medical Center, “I’ve seen all of this first hand, because I was one of his patients. I was operated on in the morning and was walking without a cane or crutch when I first left Rush later that day.”
A prime example of his outstanding surgical outcome is none other than his 10,000th outpatient minimally invasive case, Kathy Blum. The Norman, Oklahoma native has proven that Berger’s procedure and gender-specific knee implants are ahead of the game.
Blum, 62, has practiced Pilates for the past 14 years. Her background in education and passion for helping others has blossomed into a career as a successful Pilates instructor. Routinely, she strives to improve the physical capabilities of her clients.
In 2017, Blum began experiencing debilitating knee pain. The discomfort began to affect her daily life, which in turn interfered with her love for Pilates.
Determined to return to her previous physical state, she met with a local surgeon, but was informed that her athletic proficiencies would be limited after bilateral knee replacement surgery. Blum’s concern of risking the end of her career, as a Pilates instructor, was then at an all time high.
Her fear and hesitations were soon lifted after speaking with a friend, who was a patient of Berger’s. Astounded by her friend’s surgical results, she immediately arranged to fly to Chicago for her initial consultation.
“At my initial appointment, my first impression of Dr. Berger was that he was a very kind man and was happy to help me,” Kathy recounted, “The employees genuinely wanted to build relationships with their patients, and in that moment, I knew I was cared about.”
As Berger’s patients have increased, so has his staff, resulting in patient care and attentiveness that’s hard to find elsewhere.
“We want to make sure that from the first time the patient calls, to providing a great education at their initial appointment, the patient is well informed and involved throughout the entire process,” said Berger, “I truly believe we have the best customer service in medicine.”
At that point —comfortable and eager — Blum decided to move forward with the surgeries. Berger replaced Blum’s left knee in March of 2018, followed by her right knee in December of the same year.
A mere two weeks after both operations she was back in her Pilates studio working with clients.
“I’m feeling really good and have no pain,” said Blum, “I’ve been active my entire life and my experience with Dr. Berger has reminded me how important it is to continue to make your body better and enjoy every minute.”
Soon after Blum had her first knee replaced, her husband William also underwent knee replacement surgery with Berger. Together, they’ve cherished living their lives without physical limitations and their new knees are functioning as good as new.
What’s to Come
Ultimately, Berger’s long-term goal is to train more surgeons and continue to help others by providing the best care. He aims for potential patients to have the option to either have the minimally invasive outpatient procedure performed by him, or another surgeon and additionally, for women to have further access to the gender-specific knee prosthesis.
“Primarily, although we have helped a lot of patients, and will continue, there are only so many patients we’re able to help. Secondarily, we need to continue train others and improve the process, to make the surgery quicker, easier and more available to people,” said Berger.
Performing 10,000 minimally invasive outpatient joint replacement surgeries is truly astounding, but for Dr. Richard A. Berger, this may very well just be the start of something greater.