Column: The Growing Business of Worn-out Joints and Getting Off the Floor

By Don Cunningham on January 30, 2023

This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on Jan. 29 2023. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

My daughter had another baby this month.

This makes me a grandfather again.

And, as anyone who has experienced it through the ages knows, it’s one of life’s great joys — and wonders — to hold the child of your child in your arms.

Each time I do it, my memory catapults back 30 years. My brain recalls the look and feel and smell of my daughter, their mom, as a newborn.

In that moment, I am a young father once again. And, although I’ve done nothing, a feeling of pride and achievement washes over me.

The deep-seated genetic code in human DNA is built to first and foremost sustain the species. And it celebrates with delight when a 57-year-old holds another generation in the bloodline.

That warm grandparent feeling is your DNA issuing you a Perpetuation of the Species Badge.

Shortly after this, that same DNA starts signaling your joints, hair, muscles, and bones that their service is no longer needed.

My 2-year-old granddaughter was with us for Christmas. With a child, this is a holiday that involves the floor.

I never thought about the floor. I do now. It’s hard to get on it and off it. It involves strategy and looking for objects that provide leverage.

When my kids were young, I was a floor guy. Playing with toys, wrestling with them, sometimes even watching television from there.

Now, my favorite evening activity is reading. I do this from a chair.

For Christmas, my kids bought me an electronic foot massager. This is an addictive product. My daughter asked me the other night if the motor has burned out yet.

I’ve entered the world of orthopedics. I have osteoarthritis in my fingers and a torn-up knee, very much in need of surgery, which I’ve put off.

Some of my fingertips at the first joint have turned at odd angles. I never thought I’d long for the day of thick hair — and nice straight fingers.

As a young dad, I always felt closer in age to my kids than my father.

That’s begun to change.

My dad lives in a Florida retirement community that we affectionately refer to as Del Boca Vista. We talk every few days on the phone.

Now, along with the regular update on family members, sports, and politics, we talk ailments and operations.

I had my first MRI, and knee surgery is scheduled. It gives me Florida street cred.

“I’d say 90 percent of the guys I golf with down here have new knees, and some, new hips,” my dad said in a recent call.” There aren’t a lot of original parts in Florida.”

I’m not at the new part stage yet.

But medical technology and the skill of orthopedic surgeons is doing battle with human DNA that still programs joints to start becoming obsolete after 50.

Knee and hip replacements are growing by 15 percent to 20 percent each year, according to the annual reports of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

There were about a million procedures last year.

And, according to Weatherby HealthCare, orthopedic surgeons are the second-highest paid specialists in medicine ahead of cardiologists but behind plastic surgeons.

There’s a lot to unpack in that ranking.

As the baby boomer generation ages and retires, the future looks bright for those replacing knees and hips and doing battle with the joints and hinges of human bodies.

Development of the MRI machine and arthroscopic surgery has advanced the process.

I enjoyed my first MRI. But, in fairness, I was in the claustrophobic tube feet first and my head was in the open.

A very nice technician offered me a headset and my choice of music. She sized me up for classic rock.

The first song was “Old Time Rock n’ Roll” by Bob Seger. An odd song choice when the requirement is to keep still and quiet. It was like a 1980s wedding reception in the MRI.

It was a sign of my age that I fell asleep to classic rock following the opener. It became nearly as relaxing as the foot massage machine.

The results were a different story. But I’m in good company.

On the Allegiant Air flight back and forth to southwest Florida from the Lehigh Valley to visit my dad and stepmom at Del Boca Vista during the holidays, I really took notice of my fellow travelers. Lots of walkers, canes, wheelchairs, and people with odd gaits, more side-to-side than heel-to-toe.

At times, it looked like an old John Wayne western where the cowboys come out of the saloon walking side-to-side.

It was like a marketing video for orthopedic surgeons.

I remembered what my dad said. There aren’t a lot of original parts in Florida. But thankfully, there are a lot of orthopedic surgeons battling the nature of DNA.

On behalf of all the grandparents out there hoping to get back on the floor with another generation of our bloodline, we are forever grateful.

Don Cunningham is the president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. He can be reached at

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