Mark Pompi's Story
"It was getting harder and harder to keep up with the guys who had two good knees."
Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Mark E. Pompi of Pittsfield has just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he served as a scout in a cavalry squadron with what he likes to call his "fake knee." It's highly unusual that someone needs a total knee replacement at the relatively young age of 48. It's even more unusual that Mark passed the rigorous medical review board, which allowed him to return to active duty with a prosthetic knee and to deploy with his National Guard unit. But to the dedicated Army combat veteran, the most amazing thing is that his knee got steadily better and better as time went on.
"In training and in the combat theater I kept up with soldiers who were 20 to 25 years younger than me," he said. "I'm not running laps around them, but I could keep up."
Besides his many years of service in the Army National Guard as a tank commander, Mark had been a football player in high school and a football official his entire adult life. A football injury in high school led to arthritis as an adult and the frequent need for treatment. He underwent two arthroscopic surgeries and injections for pain, but the advanced condition of his arthritis was made worse during a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, where he served in a quick-reaction-force platoon.
"It was getting harder and harder to keep up with guys who had two good knees," he said. "Being on tanks all of those years with that injury caused the arthritis in my knee to go from bad to worse. When I was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, the arthritis was really starting to interfere with my ability to complete the missions."
When he returned home from that tour, he had a series of meetings with Laurence Cohen, MD, a surgeon with Berkshire Orthopaedic Associates. "He told me I seemed way too young for a total knee replacement, but that my knee was really bad. He said there was no sense tinkering around with it any more. I needed a new knee."
In the summer of 2007 he underwent surgery at Berkshire Medical Center, where Dr. Cohen told him it was one of the worst knees he had ever replaced. He immediately started physical therapy as an inpatient, and continued on an outpatient basis for the next six months.
Mark spent most of 2010 in Afghanistan, where he realized that two and a half years after surgery, his knee is stronger and more flexible than ever. While he was overseas, he sent a note to the orthopaedic surgeon who has been treating him since his first football injury at 16.
"My knee is doing well," he wrote. "You did a great job."