Monday 26 January 2015

A joint effort: Marian Richardson is back on her feet

Crippled by osteoarthritis, broadcaster Marian Richardson turned to an orthopaedic surgeon for help. Now, after a knee replacement, she tells Joy Orpen she can't wait to get into her high heels for her next birthday

Marian Richardson

The first thing that catches your eye when you cross the threshold of Marian Richardson's delightful home in Dun Laoghaire is a tiny, high-heeled Cinderella slipper lying on its side, looking lost.

Judging from the slipper's size, you might think Marian has tiny feet. But having suggested as much, she replies: "That's not my shoe – it's a doorstop!"

Oh dear. Already feeling embarrassed, I notice that Marian is wearing sturdy trainers easily a size or two bigger than the slipper. Yet more blushes.

When I meet her, Marian is supporting herself on crutches, having had recent surgery on her knee to fix a long-term problem.

She hopes to be off them and inside a pair of high heels in time for her next birthday. And, given this doyenne of broadcasting's track record when it comes to surmounting obstacles, I have no doubt she will turn up to the party the picture of elegance. And I'd bet she won't be wearing flats.

Marian's troubles began long ago, mainly through playing sport as a child.

"Over the years, I played a lot of tennis, rounders and, of course, I was always running for buses," she says.

"I've always had dodgy knees, but, just over a year ago, after I got off the Dart, my knee went from under me. I had the most excruciating pain – it was even worse than childbirth. I went from being someone who could run to not being able to walk."

Following X-rays, her doctor diagnosed osteoarthritis (OA), which is caused by wear and tear on the joints, and affects about 400,000 people – mainly older individuals – across Ireland.

Next, Marian was referred to the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, in north Dublin, under the care of consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Ray Moran.

"I'm one of those people who believe Ray is next to God," says Marian. "He likes to treat OA conservatively, so we tried intense physio to see if it would ease the problem."

Jenny Branigan, who is the women's national team physiotherapist at the Football Association of Ireland, was drafted on to the case, but she discovered that Marian's knee was too damaged for physiotherapy to be of any benefit. So it was back to Ray.

Having tried unsuccessfully to sort her out with a special injection into the knee, Ray decided an arthroscopy – a form of keyhole surgery used to treat the body's joints – would be the course of action most likely to produce results.

The operation saw two small incisions made in Marian's leg – one to insert the arthroscope (a tiny surgical camera) and another that allowed Ray to scrape away damaged tissue inside the knee.

After a pre-operation checkup to make sure she was well enough for surgery, Marian met with the anaesthetist, who suggested an epidural. While this is a localised form of pain control, it also knocks out the patient.

"I wasn't sitting up having a cup of tea," jokes Marian. "In actual fact, I have no recollection of the event, which was pretty hardcore surgery."

When she woke up, her feet were encased in massage bootees and "elegant anti-thrombosis stockings".

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