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Discover Hope

Rita’s Story: Rheumatoid Arthritis Stopped in its Tracks by Total Ankle Replacement

Sep. 23, 2021

For many, including Rita Campbell, rheumatoid arthritis can be unbearable to deal with. A total ankle replacement proved to do the trick.


When Rita Campbell was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 31, she didn’t give up; she got focused.

“It was so painful,” Rita said. “I lost my grip strength. I couldn’t open a jar or turn a doorknob. I went to drive to work, and I just couldn’t.” Instead, a friend drove her to UC Medical Center. It was April 28, 1981.

Rita’s journey to become a journalist came to an abrupt stop as she battled her new diagnosis. She was bedridden for nine months. She couldn’t go to the bathroom, hold a cup in her hand or take medicine. Her daughter, still in junior high school, took off the final quarter of school to help her.

“Rita has had rheumatoid arthritis since a young age. And in addition, she has developed multiple joint complications from her underlying rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis,” said Christine Burrows, MD, medical director of the UC Health Internal Medicine & Pediatrics (Meds-Peds) program and professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Dr. Burrows is Rita’s primary care physician.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that causes painful swelling in the body. An autoimmune disease is when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body.

A neighbor came to her aid by suggesting a specific treatment. Rita talked to her doctor about this suggestion and together, they found an answer that worked for her. “I felt like my body was new again.”

Born and raised in downtown Cincinnati, Rita has two children, seven adult grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. She loves to read spiritual books and is laser-focused on her spirituality and growth. “It makes me happy. It teaches me to be a loving person,” she explained. “I think that’s what made me want to go into a nursing field – because I cared about people.” Rita changed career course and went back to school at age 38 to become a certified medical assistant.

After good previous experiences, Rita turned to a familiar place to find answers to her debilitating pain: UC Health. With her primary care physician already there, she decided to consult with the experts once again at UC Health Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

“I’ve done a number of surgeries over the last 20 or 30 years on Ms. Campbell,” said Peter Stern, MD, UC Health orthopaedic surgeon and professor in the Department of Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine at the UC College of Medicine. “Over my practice time, orthopaedics has developed into a number of subspecialities, such as hand surgery, foot and ankle surgery, etc.”

Renewed Hope with UC Health’s Orthopaedic Subspecialists

Dr. Stern recommended that Rita see Tonya L. Dixon, MD, UC Health orthopaedic surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine at the UC College of Medicine. Dr. Dixon is fellowship-trained in foot and ankle surgery and also is the only African American female orthopaedic surgeon in Cincinnati.

“Rita came to me with severe ankle arthritis where she was having pain with every step she took,” Dr. Dixon explained. “And so, to maintain some mobility in her ankle, an ankle replacement was the best option for her.”

Having consulted with Dr. Stern for many years, Rita trusted him and took his recommendation to see Dr. Dixon and have total ankle replacement surgery, despite having never heard of it before.

“Dr. Stern knew someone that could help me and someone he thought I would like,” Rita said. “Dr. Dixon never rushed me. She just has a kind heart. She’s in the right field.”

A total ankle replacement would potentially offer something Rita hadn’t had in years – hope.

“What we do is we go in and take out the bad cartilage and put in metal with a plastic insert to recreate our ankle joint,” Dr. Dixon said.

In early 2020, Rita’s ankle was successfully replaced. The surgery completely changed her life. She could walk without pain for the first time in years. She refused to allow her rheumatoid arthritis to control her life.

Following the procedure, Rita spent two weeks at Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care where she continued inpatient physical therapy. It was a challenging recovery, but well worth it. She finally found answers to a problem she thought she’d always have.

“When you’re pain is not getting better with ice, rest or anti-inflammatories, that’s the time when you need to seek out care to make sure nothing else is going on,” said Dr. Dixon.

Throughout the years, Rita has remained loyal to UC Health because of the world-class, compassionate care she has received. It’s been a difficult road, but she trusted her doctors and surgeons every step of the way. From coming to the Emergency Department at UC Medical Center for strep throat when she was young to seeing experts at the Barrett Cancer Center, UC Health has been part of Rita’s life for many years. She even has her dentist here at the UC Health Dental Center.

Because of the experts, specialists and subspecialists available at UC Health, Rita doesn’t have to leave her hometown for the care she needs.

“It’s very common at UC Health that our patients have multiple complex chronic conditions, and so therefore, over the long haul, they regularly see four or five of our specialists,” Dr. Burrows said. “We are here across your journey, across the specialties so that we can prevent complications.”

No matter what comes her way, Rita knows that she is in good hands with her care teams.

“I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I’ve been with UC Health since I can remember, and every time a problem comes up, they solve it,” Rita explained. “I am living proof that UC Health is the best.”

In life, we all make decisions that can have last impacts. For Rita, coming to UC Health and deciding to have total ankle replacement surgery were the most important decisions she made, allowing her to have a fulfilling, pain-free life.